Tuesday, July 1, 2008

My Waldorfy Playcentre Dream

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!


nova_j said...

ooohh playdough! i'm telling on you! ;)

nah seriously it sounds perfect! :D i'll bring some of my vegan choc choc-chip bikkies for the mum's morning tea too ;)

Dawn said...

Oh...this sounds wonderful! I would love a place like this for my son. I wish I knew some other Waldorf moms who lived near me.

Lizz said...


patience said...

I love your vision. As a mother who has experienced Playcentre, I'm not as enthusiastic about it as it stands in practice, for many of the same reasons you noted in your earlier post on the subject. I think a Waldorf playgroup would be my own dream. Infact I wish one had been available when Rose was little, as I would have walked miles through the hills to attend! For that matter, I wish there was a Waldorf homeschoolers group around for children of all ages!

I agree with you about shared mealtime. I also think parent involvement is important (although allowing the children free play outside their parent's immediate influence is also important) but I think a Waldorf environment would be more nurturing towards parent participants than I think Playcentre is. Parents need structure, comfort, rhythm too, and this is what Playcentre lacks. Parents also need a restful time and the chance for adult conversation! I think these reasons are why parents at Playcentre often aren't involved.

May I add to this already looong comment that one of the biggest problems I see with Playcentre is the level of commitment required to the parent's training and education. Some parents simply cannot manage this and I think it puts them off. Training and guidance within the playtime would be ideal.

But of course its all just dreaming ...

Mary said...

I would add some dress-ups and a science table. Did you mention a music corner for high-quality percussive instruments? And collage - being Steiner-inspired it would be an all-natural collage table (a la Pennie Brownlee!). Carpentry is missing too - actually is there a Steiner perspective on working with wood in this way?

Love the idea of private places within the communal area.

I like the overall vision for the external place space. I wonder what would be in the extensive playground? I like to have few pieces of permanent equipment and lots of other equipment that can be used in more than one way (eg cubes for constructing or climbing, beams to balance on, or to create inclined planes, child-designed confidence courses etc).

Like you, I like the idea of a shared morning tea. I think the rolling morning tea think is less disruptive to a free-play environment, and is probably more respectful of each individual child's natural rhythms of hunger and play. But it runs the risk of seeing food as purely functional, rather than as an important cultural event - which I would argue it is.

I'm getting more inclined towards free play over time, so I would skip the circle time and closing structures. (Not that they would work at our Centre as we don't all turn up at once - duty team arrives first, then the rest trickle in). But I would be fully supportive of anyone who invited children into them.

After adding all that stuff I'm now going to say that I'm coming to the position that less is more. More space, fewer adult-designed static play equipment. Maybe only one kind of building blocks - but high quality and allowing for maximum creative input. A few well chosen puzzles and dress ups, perhaps rotated with things in storage 3-4 times a year.

Argh, and I would ban The kuia and the spider just cos I don't like it! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Sounds divine. Can we come? wrote a big comment on your visit to playcentre, but had trouble with my wordpress login, so it got lost :-)

We are very ho hum about PC. It really is a bit busy and overwhelming for Cam (who would guess that is a house with 3 other kids?). We usually only go on the quiet day (about 8-10 kids), but will brave tomorrow if I can face it, but i know it will be a lot busier.

RunninL8 said...

And I had a nice time visiting,too! Gypsy, that idea sounds wonderful to me! One thing that I have learned personally is that I can't just be a strict adhearent to ONE educational paradigm. Your idea really isn't that far off from Stiener. Just more choice and variety offered each day. It seems everything else lends itself to rhythms.

Anonymous said...

Sounds wonderful!

Waldorf ECE methods usually incorporate a sense of breathing: in breaths at quiet times, out breaths at active times. So constant free play and eating whenever does not support that. Steiner was very clear that the task of education was the help the child's breathing become rhythmic--so we work on this at all levels.

My understanding is that transitions are handled gently, so that there is not so much of a sense of "interruption." Because consistent rhythm is emphasized, the children know what will happen each day, and so there isn't such a resistance to having some structured time vs. free play.

Also you would be working with the powerful impulse of imitation in the children, so that if the adults begin circle time, the children will *want* to join in!

Steiner described how young children perceive the world as a whole, and only as they mature do they perceive the parts. So I imagine puzzles are seen as being an opposite gesture to that: taking the parts and making a whole. So for example in the grades when beginning to teach math, you start with subtraction--having a pile, and taking some away from the whole.

Kind of like the child is at one with the mother, and then individuates later.

I love your Steiner Playcentre idea! I think these kinds of ideas are just what is needed: looking at what is there, what is specific to the culture, and what the children need. We're not all early 20th-century urban German factory workers' children :)

Anonymous said...

Oh: and as for books, I think it's good to have some around, even though Waldorf purists avoid them for the little children. And that you would incorporate NZ stories, NZ foods, etc. is just great.

Fire said...

What a beautiful post. What I've learnt from it is that the playcentre you visited is really different from my one. My playcentre starts with a welcoming activity, which is like your "circle time", but participation is not compulsory. We have morning tea together too, but again, participation is not compulsory. Almost all of the children join in, there is lots of singing and storytelling, and the adults get a moment to relax too. And at the end of session children are invited to listen to stories while the other mothers clean up. I didn't realise other playcentres don't do this. To me the routines were an important part of our sessions, but I agreed with the concept that they not be compulsory for the children. Most children participated most of the time and that was enough. I'm quite surprised at your centre's lack of routines.

Anoushka said...

Lovely! If I could bring my 5 year old along too I'd be there ;>

Gypsy said...

Thanks for such a lovely bunch of comments - if we all lived nearby we'd have more than enough mamas to set it up! Mary I love your ideas about the outside space with lots of cubes to move around ... kids love creating their own play. And I agree with your comments about less 'stuff'

Its interesting reading everyone from PCs comments, and others who have emailed me offline, that all Playcentres are so different. Fires does have a morning circle, some have shared morning tea (often for allergy reasons) and their commitment to ecostuff can vary as well.

Patience I agree with you about the massive amount of commitment, I wonder if PC would be better of flagging licensing as an ECE and go for playgroup funding instead - they could still have their training and their systems, but less demands to meet MOE requirements taht often don't fit the PC model anyway.

I promise when I win the lottery this will be what I do!

Teaching Handwork said...

sounds great!!!!!!
Steiner would have said something like
"feed the soul and spirit, bring in fairy tales and you are set"
must have nature and play play play

sounds like you have it covered

onegoldensun said...

This is a beautiful vision. I would love this for my community as well. Best wishes for the realisation of your dream!