Monday, April 23, 2012

The Nursery Child

Thanks to everyone for all of the kind words of encouragement regarding my recent interview and sample teaching at our local and very beloved Waldorf school...
I'd like to think it went well, but it doesn't matter so much what I think at this point, right? :)
In any case, it was a wonderful experience for me to interview and answer questions.
I had a terrific time presenting my circle and story to the children, and I believe they liked it, too. A few of them came up to me afterwards and remarked how much they enjoyed it. That's really all that matters to me!
It's hard, hard, hard not to be nervous when so much is at stake. A fulfilling job...becoming a part of a community...a bit of financial ease for our family...among other things. I'm a bit of a motor mouth, and I really get going when I'm excited. This past Thursday, I was *very* excited. I was elated all day long and I barely remember the moments leading up to walking through the door to the interview. There was just so much building up to this moment and I couldn't believe it was happening.
  One of the questions they asked was the difference between a nursery vs. kindergarten child....
{a few scattered reflections on this question}
*A nursery child (2.5-about 4) is in need of a home-like environment and all of the surroundings and work that come with it. Steiner asserted that children might begin school with kindergarten at about the age of 5 or 6...Nursery programs came much later as parents both needed to return to the workplace. Caring for young children in a group setting takes unaffected love and an understanding of development. They aren't "little people" who can reason or debate. They need to be surrounded by adults who are striving to be worthy of imitation; an ongoing journey. Think of a nursery room as a "home away from home." It is a place where the senses are nourished and beauty and order prevail.

Consider this passage from Steiner's The Kingdom of childhood regarding the gesture, speech, and attitude of the teacher:
These are the things that matter most for young children. What you say, what you teach, does not yet make an impression, except insofar as children imitate what you say in their own speech. But it is what you are that matters; if you are good this goodness will appear in your gestures; and if you are bad tempered this also will appear in your gestures, in short, everything that you do yourself passes over into the children and makes its way within them. This is the essential point. Children are wholly sense organ, and react to all the impressions of the people around them. Therefore the essential thing is not to imagine that children can learn what is good or bad, that they can learn this or that, but to know that everything that is done in their presence is transformed in their childish organisms into spirit, soul, and body. The health of children for their whole life depends on how you conduct yourself in their presence. The inclinations that children develop depend on how you behave in their presence.

.....doesn't that make you feel like you're a bit lost at sea; how could I ever be that worthy? I am human, not free of mistakes and weaknesses by any means! Remembering that I'm on an ongoing path of self discovery and growth helps me when I start to feel the magnitude of how my actions, words, gestures, and feeling affect so, so much.

*A very young child needs warmth, both physical and emotional. Warm and weather appropriate clothing keep a child from using energy to make up for lost body heat. I focus especially on the head and chest. This could also apply to a kindergarten child, of course.
*Great care is taken in regards to personal care....hand washing and toileting are done with loving guidance and ample time. There is no rush. Independence in this area is the goal, but this will happen in time! I have found that the 3.5-4.5 children I care for still need some help or at least the presence of an adult when it comes to toileting and hand washing.

*Time for rest and quiet is crucial....even if it is for just 20 minutes. A time to be still, to exhale, to be silent.
* Stories are from a familiar place, such a nature or life experiences. Repetition plays a large role in these stories, helping the children live into the content. (meaning, the story is repeated over the course of about a month and there are elements of repetition within the story, as well.)
*Discipline is also lead by imitation....if a child is hurt by another's hand, we care for the child who has been "wounded". Shaming or punishing removes a child from the situation and therefore he or she will not view the effects of his actions. Your hand hit this person. Let's help this person feel better. Please hand me some boo boo cream or an ice pack. Our hands are gentle. At this young age, children are still experimenting with the outcomes of their actions.

*As a teacher, our words are few. I try not to be directive with the young children, rather I use hand or body language to express where I want them to be (think of stroking a pillow or blanket during rest time when a child has sat up...) I don't really "step in" during scuffles, unless someone  is being hurt physically....most of the time, I have found that children really do work things out on their own, in their own way.... My adult solutions usually offer very little and I try to keep them to myself.
*Playthings are made unformed and natural materials; toys in which the "details" can be filled in by a child's imagination.
*Seasonal festivals, such as the quiet of Advent or the joy of May Day, bring about a connection to the cycle of the year. Through such yearly revisited activities, a child’s feeling for the cycles of life and of nature is strengthened.
...there is much more to say and I've only touched on some large topics. Thank you for reading; this is a helpful way for me to organize my thoughts and to think more on these important ideas!


  1. Good luck to you and the Waldorf School. Ours here is just lovely. I home school and for some time the school was open to us during the festivals.
    I really enjoy using the gentel loving ways of Waldorf in my home.

    With All That I Am
    Carrie "The Handmade Homemaker"

  2. Ooh, you distilled so much here. There is so much that seems similar between kindy and nursery, and I think you really brought into focus the emphasis in caring for very small children, for those of us mothering them. Thanks!

  3. This is such a beautiful overview of Steiner's philosophy.
    Thank you so much for sharing your insights:)

  4. thank you for this post, I am thinking of training to be a steiner teacher (I at the moment am homeschooling my two daughters) but I am wavering between wanting to do it, and being very afraid ! your post gave me a little more of a push towards 'YES' this morning - I have signed up to fly to the open day on 19th May in the UK and check out the course, it is part time for two years and involves a huge commitment, but I think it is going to be worth it. Anyway, I am so glad to have found your blog,

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