Sleep Advice

Monday, 27 February 2012

The Genius of Play


Our son is lucky enough to attend one of the few Steiner based child care centres in New Zealand - Kowhai Childcare.  When I was working part time, I worked at the Waikato Waldorf School just 200m up the road from him.
Kowhai Whare, the original centre. Cadell attends Tui Whare just two years old, built for increasing enrolments

I kind of fell into the Steiner philosophy, as in I didn't seek it out.  But these things come into our lives for a reason.  One of my good friends who I used to teach with in a mainstream school who also happened to have a baby at the same time I had Cadell, returned to work as the Manager of Kowhai.  When I started back doing some relieving and finding more regular work she suggested I come and look at Kowhai.  I had intentions of starting Cadell at a Montessori childcare.  I visited our local one, and although it seemed nice I just didn't get that great vibe you look for when letting your precious child go into the care of others.  So I took my friends advice and headed down to Kowhai.  I fell in love with the place instantly.  The smell of home baking and the kitchen being the heart of the centre, and children being free to play.  Best of all there was no busy stinky road close to it.

And so Cadell has called Tui his second home Tui Whare for two years now.  Being a teacher you'd think I'd be all focused on academic achievement for my own children, preparing them for school, and teaching them early reading and writing skills.  Funnily enough I couldn't be more opposed to this.  Learning more and more about the Steiner approach, I truly believe that Cadell is not yet ready for any of this.  I want him to appreciate diversity in culture and people, to learn to manage his emotions and relationships, develop motor skills, good work habits, and reverence for the simple things in life and what nature provides for us.  The Steiner approach does all of this.

We are lucky enough to have access to some wonderful books in the Kowhai library and one I am thoroughly enjoying now is called "The Genius of Play: Celebrating the Spirit of Childhood" by Sally Jenkinson.  What an amazing approach to raising children and opening my eyes to the true value of play for my son.

Here's a little excerpt that rang true for me:

In Steiner kindergartens and in other settings where early academic pressure has less of a hold, the tradition of embracing children in adult work is still maintained. Cleaning, cooking, baking, gardening adults accompany the children  and invite them to participate in real, observable work.  Exposure to adult work helps develop good work habits and is a tremendous incentive to play.  So much work is carried out by  unseen by sophisticated machines these days that children have little opportunity to see human hands doing more than button pushing.

I also felt reassured by this passage:

Working adults of the past had little time to play with their children.  Today, we think it is our duty to play with our children, rather than to work with them, and we rush to finish our tasks so that we can have 'quality time with the kids'.  Entering shared reality levels together in play can be enormous fun, but children nearly always play best when left to their own devices, in, or just out of the shadow of the working adult.  Because we are always so busy, the involving of our children in our work, especially when they helpfully unmake the beds we have just made, can seem difficult.  It probably requires a more relaxed attitude to house keeping and a more tolerant attitude toward child-keeping.  Beds can always be remade - children can't.

I particularly like this one because I often feel bad that I don't sit and play, solely focused on Cadell.  I love baking (my procrastination tool) and I used to do it when Cadell was at day care, but I am doing it more with him now, and he is really reaping the benefits of being able to work with me.  Even though it is stretching my tolerance and turning me grey!  As we made hot cross buns together and he helped to measure, tip in and mix the dry ingredients, he said "Should I make a well?"  I felt so pleased that he is learning the language of baking, and also the motor skills required to stir with a wooden spoon and keep ALL the flour in the bowl.

It also makes sense to take the time to teach children these skills to build their independence, and as I recall when reading in one of the books that Diane Levy recommended, to do something independently builds their self esteem and self confidence to try new things.  The reality of this is I really need Cadell to get changed without my help in the mornings while I am feeding or tending to a new born!

I had a discussion with my mother in law, who, like all grandparents, believe that her grandchildren are special and very talented.  She asked if Cadell will go to a Steiner school, to which I replied "Most likely"  She was concerned that by starting school at 6 years old and learning to knit and craft before being formally taught to read (rest assured it is a language rich environment) that it was all left too late.  I would like to think that in my experience as a teacher I will pick up on cues that he is ready to learn to read, but certainly won't be pushing him.  In today's world where media is in our faces constantly and as stated above children don't get to see human hands doing work as often, I want Cadell's schooling years to be more traditional, perhaps even old fashioned, simple, fun and without academic pressure.  Certainly there is academic rigour, it is just less obvious to a person used to the "instruction" children receive in schools today.  Cadell's home life exposes him to TV, computers, stylised images, and all sorts of things that aren't very Steiner like, so school will offer some reprieve from all those influences.

That's my Steiner spiel for the week.


  1. Hi there, Just happened to spot your blog on KMB's and thought I would say "Hi".

    When looking at options I looked at Kowhai childcare and it was lovely and refreshing to see somewhere not looking sterile (fake grass etc), not on the busy road and it feels quite homely.

    Gah, gotta go, ... baby crying but it's nice to see a blog from close to home. All the best with your business. It looks great :)

  2. Thanks ella d, I'm stoked you've introduced yourself! So have you decided on a child care? Is it in preparation for the wee crying baby? I really can't speak highly enough of the staff who seem to genuinely love their job and love the children, which is what you want for your treasures when they aren't with you. Now that I work from home I have much less need to have Cadell in care, but as I suggested a Steiner centre can provide much more than I can at home in a richer environment, and I love that he has that influence in his life.
    Great to have a local reader too, thanks!

  3. Morning :) We have a 3 1/2 year old boy and a 1 year old girl and are living in Rototuna. We did decide on a Daycare which was "Great Beginnings" in Gordonton (opposite Gordonton school). Turns out I fell in love with it more than my son did! lol, it was just what I wanted, lots of space for him to run around and play (our backyard consists of a nice big brick courtyard!) bleh (not the country paddocks I imagined our children would be playing in!), Great Beginnings has a nice country feel and Montessori style of learning etc etc.

    I have since enrolled him in an amazing kindy which seems to suit him better being half days (so he can have an afternoon nap in peace at home) and he LOVES the structured learning and mat times etc. Go figure! It's like he just needed "more". He wanted to learn his abc's and is excited at the thought of being able to read. Totally not the direction I thought we would take for him as I do love the "learn through play" philosophy but it has been such a positive for our family :) I kinda feel like with all the 'play' he was just a bit lost. I'm glad I finally listened to what he was saying... though it was pretty clear.... "I don't want to go to Daycare!" lol. They said he was happy when he was there but it just wasn't right, I wasn't listening to the most important little person! Now he can't wait to go to kindy and it is soooo refreshing and just wonderful. I love that he is loving his days now. It's great!

    Anyways, as you can tell baby is asleep so I have rambled a bit! lol. I do hope to continue as a stay at home Mum but Daycare/kindy is great in addition to this, for everyones sanity! :).

    Have a great day :)