self-initiated play

Summer Blog Series: Principles of Waldorf Education

This Summer, we want to share some of the foundations of Waldorf Education with you.

First up: intrinsic motivation, which means doing something out of oneself, out of our own initiative, rather than out of fear, duty, obligation, shame, peer pressure, parent pressure, or another external motivator. 

Self-discipline, autonomy, independence
One of the ways that Waldorf Education develops intrinsic motivation is by strengthening the will and offering increasing autonomy and independence. Many activities that the students participate in (making main lesson books, washing dishes in Kindergarten, taking out compost in the grades, cleaning up after themselves in the classroom, being faithful to daily instrument practice, creating Handwork projects) are undertaken in part to develop the will, so that when a child wants to accomplish something, s/he has the strength of will or the discipline to do it. This autonomy culminates in high school, when many students go on an international exchange for 3-5 months in 10th or 11th grade, and when seniors take on a 3-week internship and a year-long senior project.    

Relational learning
Waldorf Education also helps students find intrinsic motivation for schoolwork by allowing them to develop a relationship to their learning: we offer a developmentally appropriate, alive, relevant curriculum that excites and engages them, which fuels their desire to learn and do. Teacher looping also helps students develop a relationship with their teacher, and the social inclusion work that we do, along with class trips and class plays, builds deep relationships between students

Competence and mastery
At Green Meadow, we offer students work that is worthy of them. No rote memorization, no standardized testing, no teaching to the test. Instead, we use story and experiential learning to help students develop visible, tangible mastery and competence in each subject, which deepens their feeling of ownership of their learning and compels them to want to do better.

Here is a terrific article from The Graduate School of Education at Harvard University about fostering intrinsic motivation in children.

Play is essential for young children

This article from last year in The Atlantic sheds light on one of the many reasons that play is essential for young children. The author, pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom, notes:

"Like many other American parents, I had an obsession: academic success for my child. Only, I was going about it completely wrong. Yes, my daughter would later go on to test above average with her academic skills, but she was missing important life skills. Skills that should have been in place and nurtured during the preschool years. My wake-up call was when the preschool teacher came up to me and said, “Your daughter is doing well academically. In fact, I’d say she exceeds expectations in these areas. But she is having trouble with basic social skills like sharing and taking turns.” Not only that, but my daughter was also having trouble controlling her emotions, developed anxiety and sensory issues, and had trouble simply playing by herself!

Little did I know at the time, but my daughter was far from being the only one struggling with social and sensory issues at such a young age. This was becoming a growing epidemic. A few years ago, I interviewed a highly respected director of a progressive preschool. She had been teaching preschoolers for about 40 years and had seen major changes in the social and physical development of children in the past few generations."

At the heart of Green Meadow's Early Childhood program is our understanding that self-initiated play is critical to healthy development. As soon as children learn something new, they start to play with their new capacities, practicing and testing their skills until they tackle more and more difficult tasks. Therefore, ample time for creative play is part of each morning.  

Open-ended toys made from natural materials, like silk scarves, knitted wool puppets, wooden blocks, and acorns collected from nature walks, nourish the child’s developing senses. With these natural items, children may flex their creative muscles and imaginative capacities, and further develop their emerging fine motor skills.  In addition, involving moveable structures that they can explore in environments that invite movement helps to develop gross motor coordination. We believe that creative play is the child’s most important developmental tool, whether to discover new skills, work with experiences, or express emotions.

Our children benefit from a rich variety of outdoor play spaces.  In addition to our beautiful playground, they experience the natural wonders of the forest, field, farm, garden, pond, and woodland stream, all within walking distance of our classrooms.

Rain or shine, ample opportunities exist for developing strong, healthy bodies.  Depending on the time of year, children sled down snowy hills, climb rocks in the Rocky Dell, and balance on fallen trees in the Fairy Woods. Munching on autumn apples in the orchard or tasting a maple tree’s sweet water in late winter can foster a lifelong respect for the earth and a deep appreciation for nature’s bounty.

Read the rest of The Atlantic article.

Come to Morning in the Nursery/Kindergarten on March 4.