My visit to Playcentre really has had my thinking about what my ideal ECE experience would be for Munchkin.
I love the fact that parents stay with the children at Playcentre most of the time, and the level of involvement and influence parents have there.
I love the free play aspect of Playcentre – having all the areas of play available, all the time. So if Munchkin wants to do nothing but play with clay, all session for a whole term – she can.
I love the community aspect of Playcentre – working closely with other local mums running what is effectively a complete early childhood centre – and developing that community for Munchkin.
But … I love the beauty and rhythm of Steiner. I love the simple handcrafted toys. I love the singing. I love the focus on healthy organic food and care for the environment. And most of all I love the other mums. As a group they are gentle, patient, kind, thoughtful and committed. The Steiner ‘culture’ is where I want Munchkin to be during these early years.
So if I had my way, I would set up a Steiner/Waldorf Playcentre. I’m sure the Steiner purists out there might have a few issues with this, and some of my ideas might have Gwen Somerset turning in her grave - but just indulge me.
We’d find a lovely big section somewhere, preferably surrounded by forest and some hills. We’d build a beautiful big log cabin, with a communal kitchen and a pot belly stove. We’d have a little garden area for the older children to grow some veggies, (and so we can have a compost of course),
Inside, we would set up areas of play, and arrange the space so that the quieter activities have slightly enclosed spaces for children to play in. There would be a books corner, with the Gerda Muller books, some simple fairy tales, and New Zealand classics like Hairy Maclary, The Kuia and the Spider and Who Sank the Boat.
There would be a table set up for beeswax modeling, another set up with beeswax crayons. There would be a painting station set up, as well as a finger painting table so the kids could get plain old messy. And there would be home made playdough at another table, with a few wooden rolling pins, dough stamps and cutters.
Of course, there would be a family play area with beautiful Waldorf dolls, a wooden stove and sink, some cradles and pushchairs. We’d have lots of blocks and a selection of puzzles. (As an aside, why are puzzles not a Steiner thing?)
The communal kitchen would have some low benches and quality children’s baking equipment, so that the children could help with baking the bread for the morning tea. Perhaps in afternoon sessions we would make pikelets or scones instead. Either way, we’d do some baking every day.
Outside, there would be an extensive wooden playground, some trees for climbing, grass for running and a trickling water feature set into a slope for water play. Oh, and a huge sandpit of course, filled with spades and spoons and buckets and sit on diggers.
While free play would be the order of the day, we would have a little more ‘rhythm’ than a Playcentre session.
The sessions would start with a communal ‘circle time’. Not compulsory - some children prefer to stay back - I have seen this often at playgroup. But after a few sessions even the shyest child starts to come to circle time. We would sing a welcome song and some finger play songs like ‘where is thumbkin’ and ‘open shut them’.
I also really believe in the value of a shared morning tea. My understanding of the Playcentre philosophy is that children’s play shouldn’t be interrupted, and children should be free to come and get their food when they wish. But I see how much children love the rituals of eating together – putting out the placemats and the glasses, sitting down to hold hands and sing a blessing, and the excitement when the buns are unveiled. Of course, if a child is hungry at another time during the session they should of course get a snack. And if a child does not want to join the morning tea then that should be respected. But a shared morning tea is an important ritual.
At the end of the session we would have a short ‘story time’ with a parent acting out a very brief puppet play with felted dolls and some play silks to create the scene. At our playgroup, when all the children are worn out from a mornings playing this seems a lovely way to wind down before getting in cars or pushchairs to go back home.
As with Playcentre (and with my experience of Steiner) parent education would be extremely important. We would have a well stocked adult library with a range of books – You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, Creative Play for your Baby, A range of La Leche League Publications, Magic Places and other Playcentre books.
So, who’s with me? What would you add, or change to this? Even if it will only ever exist in my imagination, my Waldorfy Playcentre is a lovely place to visit!
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