In a fast-moving world, Monadnock Waldorf School (MWS) has created an environment uniquely attuned to the needs of children. On its Early Childhood campus, children from ages 2 years and 3 months to kindergarten thrive within a rhythmic day of free play, circle time, healthy meals and rest that foster learning and growth at a pace natural to each child.
Each day at the Early Childhood campus, located on Old Walpole Road in Keene, begins in a swirl of activity. On a recent morning, a small group of children balanced on a seesaw they constructed from a log and board. Another pair carefully gathered eggs from the chicken house.
Nearby, children greeted their teacher with a hug be-fore peeling away to play in an outdoor kitchen or visit the school’s angora bunny Sukie. As parents chatted with teachers, children ran up and down a grassy slope, pausing to climb trees at the bottom.
This rich array of activities greets children each morning as they transition into the day. Within the playful action, the school’s teachers recognize that the children are engaged in important work. Child-initiated free play is an important component of learning in the Waldorf curriculum.
As MWS Early Childhood teacher Sarah Galligan described, “A real gift to children is to give them time and experiences, so that they can discover things when they’re ready at their own pace.”
Current research in the sciences confirms that, as they play freely, children organically develop important capabilities: confidence, curiosity, collaboration and creativity. Children respond naturally to the Waldorf curriculum because it builds upon the intrinsic wonder children experience in the world.
“Our school is joyful; it’s fun,” Galligan continued. Unlike preschool and kindergarten programs that set aside play in favor of academic goals, MWS recognizes early childhood as a formative time for developing creativity, social skills, healthy bodies and problem-solving. Within each child, these become the founda-tion for a lifetime of learning and well-being.
The school’s idyllic setting lends itself to this ap-proach. With 12 acres of meadows, play yards, gardens, forests and streams to explore, the children spend a large portion of each day outside — in every season and weather.
In spring, they splash in puddles and play in mud kitchens. They tend the garden in summer and build dams in the forest streams. In fall, the classes explore woodland paths and harvest pumpkins. In winter, the children sled and tap maple trees.
Speaking to the benefits of this time in nature, MWS teacher Eliza Murphy explained, “The environment outside, if you think about it as a classroom and imag-ine all the materials as educational materials, it’s just boundless what the children can do.”
In contrast to human-made environments, the outdoors provides unique opportunities for children to develop their motor skills. They navigate uneven paths, climb trees and work together to build forts and bridges.
The experiences children have outdoors — in mud, sun, wind and water — help develop their sensory systems, even as they sow the seeds for an abiding ap-preciation of nature.
As the morning progresses, the children move inside into homelike classrooms that provide a family-like environment for the school’s three mixed-aged classes. For kindergarten teacher Sondra Nelson, the school itself is “an extension of the home, a beautiful space for the child to enter into.”
Each classroom is designed to provide comfort and encourage creativity. A cozy area where teachers lead circle time and tell stories transforms seamlessly into a play area, where toys made of natural materials lend themselves to open-ended play.
Each day of this Early Childhood program is struc-tured around a consistent routine that helps young children feel confident and secure as they step away from home to find their place in the wider social world of school. Murphy, who leads the youngest class of pre-schoolers, emphasizes: “The culture is love and respect all around in the classroom, kindness and care.”
At MWS, values of kindness and respect take shape around the rhythms of the day as children care for each other and cooperate. Each classroom has a kitchen where the children help their teachers prepare whole-some snacks to eat together around a family table. Even the youngest children are encouraged to participate in chores in an age-appropriate way — setting the table, pouring water and tidying toys away.
Parents appreciate the way the school helps children build healthy relationships. Reflecting on his sons’ time in the Early Childhood program, father Nick Lausier recalled, “The experiences that our children have had here have been absolutely magical.”
Asked what his sons have gained at the school, he answered, “A love for the world, for nature, for people. The desire to do what’s right, to be kind to those around you.”
The Early Childhood program also prepares children for academic learn-ing as they transition to kindergarten and first grade. Parent Lauren Fanti described, “This curriculum meets the child where they are and supports everything that needs to happen for that child to be well-positioned to learn when it’s the right time.”
In daily circle time, teachers weave songs and stories with exercises to hone fine and gross motor skills. The children respond enthusiastically to these lessons, which help them build language skills, while supporting the cognitive and motor development taking place in this critical early childhood period.
Summing up the school’s approach, MWS School Administrator Tif-fany Nichols explained, “We make sure that the foundation is strong in what the children are learning when they’re young, so that they can go into learning with excitement, with confidence. That is our mission.”
Children from MWS Early Child-hood go on to thrive in a variety
of school settings, including the Monadnock Waldorf Grade School in downtown Keene, which delivers an innovative Grade 1-8 curriculum integrating academics, art, music, language and sport to educate the whole student.
Monadnock Waldorf School is enrolling for the 2019-2020 school year. For children from 2 years, 3 months to 6 years old, the Early Childhood Program offers full- and half-day options for three, four or five days per week. Families with children from birth to preschool can also experience the cam-pus by joining a Parent & Child playgroup this fall. Information about Monadnock Waldorf School’s programs and sliding scale tuition assistance is available at http://www.monadnockwaldorfschool.org/