Waldorf says, ‘What’s the rush?’ 

More and more schools are emphasizing the importance of early academic instruction, but Waldorf schools, including the Alta Lake School in Whistler, are resisting this trend. And now studies are showing that later academic success might depend on lots of creative childhood play.

In the kindergarten at the Alta Lake School, creative play is the most important element of a child’s day. Children are given the time, space and materials to play in a way that encourages the development of their creativity and imagination.

In their play, the children – with the help of their teachers – work through life situations, developing crucial social skills, including co-operation. And they also develop a strong understanding of who they are as human beings.

In addition to helping the children experience truly creative play, Lara Bozabalian, the kindergarten teacher at the Alta Lake School, teaches the children very practical life skills.

"The children get to do all sorts of different things," says Bozabalian. "They thread needles and sew little dolls. Wash their cloth napkins and hang them to dry. Peel vegetables to make soup. Set the table and wash the dishes." All in a very calm, home-like environment.

Janet Goldammer, a kindergarten teacher in Kelowna, has had lots of opportunity to see the benefits of this approach to early education. In her 17 years as a teacher, she has worked in Waldorf kindergartens in Alaska, Vancouver and Kelowna. She was also the founding teacher at the Alta Lake School in Whistler.

"If a child has a foundation of life skills," says Goldammer, "they have a sense of security which gives them a positive outlook on life itself. They grow up to be very self-reliant and they tend to think for themselves. They don’t look to the rest of the world to look after them."

With all this emphasis on creativity, imagination and practical life skills, does this mean Waldorf kindergarteners will be at an academic disadvantage later on? Absolutely not. Recent research by renowned scientists and psychologists supports the Waldorf approach.

In his book, The Hurried Child, David Elkind, child psychologist and Tufts University professor, discusses the stresses placed upon children by the early introduction of academics. According to Joseph Chilton Pearce, the author of several major books on child psychology, including The Magical Child, our society’s emphasis on early academics is emotionally disabling our children.

And a major study in Germany compared 100 public school classes for 5-year-olds. The study found that, by the age of 10, children who participated in a purely play-based kindergarten program had significantly surpassed their schoolmates in every area measured. The results were so astounding – and so conclusive – that state educators converted all of their early childhood programs to play-based programs.

If you would like to find out more about the Waldorf approach to kindergarten, visit the Open House and May Fair at the Alta Lake School in Spruce Grove Park on Saturday, May 10 th from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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