The Philosophy Underlying Our Nursery Program
The introduction to Nokken: A Garden for Children states there was once a time when most children were raised in their homes around the ‘warmth of the hearth’ by their parents, grandparents, and neighbors. The reality that it ‘takes a village to raise a child’ was known to every family, whether the ‘village’ was an extended family or an urban neighborhood. Today, many children in modern countries begin childcare outside the home at six weeks of age, spending an average of six hours daily with childcare providers other than family members.
Alabama Waldorf School’s Nursery program is modeled in part after the Danish School, Nokken, in which children spend much of their time ‘out-of-doors.’ On our large playground, children feel they have free range to explore their surroundings. Their creative, unguided play springs forth from their imaginations, and social skills can begin to develop through working things out directly with their peers. Teachers are there to entor the development of social skills and to intervene if the situation merits it, but more often, the quiet, watchful presence of the teacher helps to guide the development of good decision-making.
Members of Alabama Waldorf School’s faculty have studied the Nokken program founded by Helle Heckman and have trained with Joan Almon, past chair of the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America (WECAN) and founder of the Alliance for Childhood. From these experiences and further studies, our faculty members have learned firsthand the importance of surrounding the children with a warm, unhurried atmosphere so that childhood is prolonged, not rushed, and children feel embraced by a home environment as they once were in extended families. An uncluttered, beautiful environment nurtures the growth of the child’s developing senses. Activities and chores in the Nursery are those done in daily life: baking, shining boots, keeping the classroom tidy, changing the decorations according to seasons. Adults engage in ordinary, meaningful activities since children of Nursery age learn primarily through imitation. Quality free play arises through the child’s own imagination, inspired by adults’ meaningful work, songs, stories, and participation in everyday events.
Social experiences occur throughout the day as children interact with one another, but they also occur in the structured environment of Circle Time. Each morning, the children and teachers gather together in a large circle to hear seasonal songs, verses, and poetry that is carefully selected to highlight the beauty, magic, and power of language and Nature and to strengthen the children’s observational powers. Children sing and move, developing fine and gross motor coordination skills, phonological awareness, and appreciation of being an individual within a larger community. Such work carries through Kindergarten and into the Grades where Circle Time evolves into Opening Exercises intended to set the mood for and support the academic content of the two-hour Morning Lesson.
Tidy-up time after play on the playground or in the classroom teaches children teamwork, responsibility, and logic. “How can we work together to put our room or playground back together again?” If we stop to consider just what it takes to put everything back into its rightful place, we see that children must use their memories and reasoning skills to ask themselves, “What goes where, and how shall I get it there?” Snack time also lays an important foundation. The teachers recite poetic verses as a healthy snack is prepared and distributed, creating a respectful atmosphere. They predictably follow the same daily routine before, during, and after snack. The ability of the children to sit at the table for longer periods of time prepares them for reading and writing later in their academic careers! The unhurried mood of snack time allows the children ample opportunity to practice grasping, holding, eating, and drinking. If a drink or food gets spilled, it is calmly cleaned up, and the child has made important connections about cause and effect. The opportunity to imitate that which is worthy of imitation, a secure place in which to grow and develop, a comforting routine for the children’s days, and sound bases for future academic, moral, social, and artistic strengths—these represent the philosophical underpinnings and values of our Nursery Program.