The following post was written by contributor Sarah Baldwin of Bella Luna Toys, and was originally published on September 9, 2011.
When I am asked by homeschoolers interested in Waldorf education to recommend a curriculum for their 3- to 6-year olds, I tell them, “Relax! Life is the curriculum for the young child.”
Young children will learn everything they need to know and be prepared for formal learning later by participating in family life, household tasks and receiving nurturing care.
Being conscious of what children need to grow in body, mind and spirit, allows you to provide them with everything they need during these early years through daily living.
As homeschooling mamas, you know how challenging it can be to get dishes done, laundry washed, meals made, and the house cleaned. It’s easy to feel like these chores need to be done in addition to homeschooling, which can feel overwhelming.
Children love to imitate the work of the adults around them. By understanding the imitative need of young children, we can include them in our daily tasks.
- Allow time for your preschooler to help prepare meals, wash dishes, hang laundry, sweep the floor and so on. Many parents don’t realize how capable young children are of doing real work for a real purpose.
- Provide them with real child-sized cooking and cleaning tools, so they can really help, and not just pretend to.
- Cook with natural, healthy whole foods. In doing so, you have the opportunity to teach them about nutrition and where food comes from.
Not only are children learning practical life skills, but they also gain self-confidence through helping. Chores like chopping vegetables help develop fine motor skills, and big jobs, like sweeping, develop large motor skills.
Realize that children are learning math when they practice measuring and counting ingredients. They are introduced to scientific concepts like substance transformation and chemistry through baking.
You’ve probably heard it said that “play is a young child’s work.” In Waldorf education, it is believed that imaginative play in early childhood leads to creative thinking later in life.
In a Waldorf early childhood classroom, ample time is allowed each day for imaginative free play, which is considered the heart of the morning.
Studies have shown that children who attend preschools where imaginative play is emphasized (think playing house, dress-up, and role-playing) actually perform better when they reach grade school – both academically and socially – than children who attended more academic preschools which emphasize reading and math.
Natural toys that are open-ended will encourage children to play imaginatively. For instance, a basket of shells or wooden tree blocks can become money, dishes, play food, and so forth.
Not only does singing bring joy and lightness to our days, but learning songs also helps develop vocabulary and language skills.
Singing through the day is a wonderful way to ease transitions, and to use while working.
For a wonderful collection of songs to sing while cooking, cleaning and so on, I highly recommend This is the Way We Wash a Day by Mary Thienes Schunemann.
Photo by Phil Romans
The importance of movement for young children cannot be over-emphasized. Brain research has proven the direct connection between movement – both small and large – and a child’s brain development.
Allow plenty of time outdoors every day for active play. Activities like jumping, climbing, swinging, sliding, climbing trees, and building snow forts may look like play, but it’s important to understand that these activities are actually strengthening your child’s brain and preparing him for lifelong learning.
Photo by nicoleta gramada
Spending time outdoors through all seasons observing nature provides your science “curriculum.” There is no need to give a child scientific explanations of the processes of nature, which are abstract and meaningless to a young child.
- Encourage your child’s sense of wonder, awe and reverence for nature. Let him marvel at the changes she notices throughout the season.
- Collect items found on your nature walks and display them on a “nature table” at home.
This sense of wonder will lead to curiosity about the natural world and a desire to learn more, as he gets older.
Games are fun, but there is so much to be learned through game playing!
Classic physical games such as jump rope not only help develop a child’s body and brain, but through reciting rhythmic jump rope rhymes, a child is also developing memory and language skills.
Traditional circle games such as “Ring Around the Rosey,” or “Duck Duck Goose” help children develop social skills, like learning to take turns.
There are many great cooperative board games to help develop logic, language, sequencing and so on.
Competitive games with winners and losers are very difficult for children under five to handle, and often lead to crying or cheating because of a preschooler’s strong desire to win. On the other hand, cooperative games allow everyone to work together toward a common goal.
Painting, drawing, handwork, and crafts help develop a child’s fine motor skills.
Again, neurological science has shown us that the nerves in the fingertips are directly wired to the brain, and by developing a child’s small motor skills through these activities, neurological pathways are being formed and strengthened, which lead to an increased capacity for learning.
By living life consciously and with purpose, and by including our children in daily living, “Life” has more lessons to teach our children than even the most prestigious packaged curriculum could ever hope to provide.
Are you homeschooling preschoolers? What activities will you fill your days with this coming year?