Waldorf educational philosophy seeks to educate the whole child, through their head, heart, and hands. Intellectual, artistic, and practical skills are brought forth in a holistic manner. The following are the key elements that can be found in a Waldorf early childhood setting: • Love and warmth • Care for the environment and nourishment for the senses • Creative, artistic experience • Meaningful adult activity as an example for the child’s imitation • Free, imaginative play • Protection for the forces of childhood • Gratitude, reverence, and wonder • Joy, humor, and happiness • Adult caregivers on a path of inner development
Why is play-based learning the recommended approach by early childhood experts?
Although much research has been conducted in recent years to indicate that young children learn through play, there is still skepticism about the importance of play in early childhood settings. This skepticism is mostly due to the widespread assumption that the earlier children begin to master the basic elements of reading, such as phonics and letter recognition, the more likely they are to succeed in school. Academic studies have concluded that although these children may have an initial advantage over their same age peers, any gains made even out in 1-3 years and are often reversed. Perhaps more tragic than the lack of any long-term academic advantage is evidence that such instruction can produce long-term harm, especially in the realms of social and emotional development. Research shows that children who engage in complex forms of socio-dramatic play have greater language skills than nonplayers, better social skills, more empathy, more imagination, and more of the subtle capacity to know what others mean. They are less aggressive and show more self-control and higher levels of thinking.
Early learning is profoundly connected to the child’s own physical body and sensory experience. The young child learns through movement, the senses, and imitation. When children play they are developing language, social skills, critical thinking, and comprehension. Thus the physical surroundings, indoors and outdoors, provide nourishing, diverse opportunities for the child’s active self-education through play. By integrating diverse elements, and bringing them into a meaningful, understandable and harmonious order, the adult provides surroundings that are accessible to the young child’s understanding, feeling, and active will. Outdoor areas provide
opportunities for gross motor movements such as jumping, swinging, spinning, and climbing. These activities are crucial for the development of the vestibular system which is responsible for balance, posture, and spatial awareness. Indoor spaces are created to feel warm and home-like with open-ended toys and natural materials to inspire imagination, imitation, and pretend play.
Why is nature play so important?
It’s no surprise that today’s children are spending far less time playing outdoors than past generations, including their own parents. The reasons are varied and include more scheduled activities, more screen time, more homework, and parents’ concerns about crime and safety. Yet, the significant increase over the past 30 years of childhood behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, depression, allergies, and obesity has led many researchers to draw a connection between these health issues and children’s diminished contact with nature.
Richard Louv, author of the bestseller Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder coined the term “nature deficit disorder” after spending ten years traveling around the country, interviewing both parents and children about their experiences in nature, in both rural and urban areas. He compared their anecdotes with a growing body of emerging scientific research that suggests children who are given early and ongoing positive exposure to nature thrive in intellectual, spiritual, and physical ways that their “shut-in” peers do not. Over the past 30 years, he says, children of the digital age have become increasingly alienated from the natural world. Citing skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity, diabetes, depression, and ADHD, he links a lack of interaction with nature to a slow but steady erosion of mental, physical, and spiritual health.
The positive effects of nature exposure include improved cognitive functioning (including increased concentration, greater attention capacities, and higher academic performance), better motor coordination, reduced stress levels, increased social interaction with adults and other children, and improved social skills.
A Swedish study compared the effects of the natural environment on children’s physical and cognitive abilities within two different daycare settings. The study found that children attending an “outdoors in all weather” daycare facility with surrounding orchards, pastures, and woodlands had better motor coordination and greater attention capacity than did children who attended an urban daycare center surrounded by tall buildings.
Further studies indicate that nature play encourages social interaction, language development and collaborative skills. Children have more positive feelings about one another when they play in a natural environment and their play is more diverse, imaginative, and creative.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is media exposure detrimental to early childhood development?
When infants and toddlers are exposed to media their time spent with screens replaces the learning activities known to benefit their development, such as movement, play, and social and language interactions with others. Screen media has been shown to be harmful to children’s developing attention and self-regulation which can diminish learning.
Evidence has also shown that background television distracts infants and toddlers from learning: they direct many quick looks to the screen and show less focused attention toward their play. They also engage less with parents, who respond more slowly to their children’s bids for attention and talk to them less often using simpler and briefer utterances. The potential of these reduced interactions are significant, as these provide a major route to young children’s learning about language and their world more generally.
Studies have underscored exposure time in early childhood as a risk factor for unhealthy lifestyle habits in the future, predicting less than optimal physical activity, body weight, and fruit and vegetable intake, along with increased consumerism, and tobacco and alcohol use. Results regarding academic performance suggest hazardous effects with overexposure to television and other forms of media.