'Play is the road to childhood happiness and adult brilliance' Joseph Chilton Pearce
I was talking to a Playcentre mum the other day, and we were discussing the ways that children play in different environments. I've been thinking a lot about this, and I thought it might be interesting (well for me anyway) to look at the 16 areas of play that constitutes the basic Playcentre set up, and compare and contrast the differences betweeen Playcentre and Steiner/Waldorf, and also to look at Montessori while I'm at it!
Before I start with this, I thought it might be helpful to give a little bit of context about the differences between Waldorf, Playcentre and Montessori. These are meant as summaries only, but please feel free to comment if you feel I have missed things out,
Playcentre is marked by a stimulating environment, providing a diverse and rich range of experiences, unlimited free play across all 16 areas of play, and a child initiated curriculum. Early academics are out, its play play play! If a child wanted to do nothing but woodwork all session, every session, she could. The environment is pretty similar to most mainstream kindys, lots of primary colours, children’s art on every wall, recorded music playing and lots of noise and clutter. At Playcentre nationally there is talk about the importance of natural materials, but individual centres differ in how seriously they take this – it tends not to be seen as a top priority. Playcentre teachers are trained parents who take quite a hands on approach in facilitating learning, using a lot of open ended questions to extend children’s thinking.
Steiner/Waldorf seeks to reduce over-stimulation and to provide a slow and gentle 'awakening' of the young child. The spiritual basis of the Steiner approach influences everything in the kindergarten, although it is more underlying than overt. Waldorf kindergartens provide deep creative play experiences, rather than a diverse range.
In a Waldorf kindergarten there is a strong rhythm, with a balance of free play and collective activities like circle and story time. There is also a weekly rhythm, so rather than all activities being available every day, there is a baking day, a painting day, a modelling day etc.
A lot of care is taken with the materials used - they will be almost all natural, and colour-wise its wood and soft pastels. The walls will be sparsely decorated - a picture of the Sistine Madonna will probably be the only thing hanging up. The Steiner kindergartener (as the teacher is called) is particularly conscious of being 'worthy of imitation' and will typically move slowly and calmly, singing as she works around the classroom engaged in practical tasks like sewing, baking or craftwork. The kindergartener will try to avoid direct instruction or formal teaching, as this would call on the child's intellect rather than allowing him or her to remain in the dreamlike state of early childhood.
Montessori is the other approach that I have a lot of time for - although I have less experience here. Montessori sees children as 'little scientists' who go through a series of 'sensitive periods' during which a child is particularly able to learn, for example, music or language or social skills. The Montessori environment is prepared with great care, it is orderly and laid out so that children can access materials independently - everything is child sized and at child height. Children are encouraged to be firmly grounded in reality before being exposed to fantasy. Montessori classrooms are typically very quiet, as children are deeply absorbed in their work. The teacher takes a facilitative role rather than a direct teaching role – he or she prepares the environment, presents the materials, and intervenes if necessary but the focus is on independent learning.
With over 250 years of experience (The first Montessori school opened in 1909, the first Waldorf school in 1919 and the first Playcentre in the 1930s) between them, these three approaches to early childhood education all have impressive pedigrees. I find there is much to be learned by being flexible and looking at different approaches, rather than just sticking doggedly to the Steiner/Waldorf approach which is the one that I happen to feel most closely connected to. I hope you all find these next few posts useful!
Links to Areas of Play Posts