Davina here - this month has been a big month for my family as my daughter Elfie, who is three and a half years old started Kindergarten at our local Steiner School. It has been overwhelmingly emotional for me - something I didn't expect at all (being pregnant must have had its part in this).
Elfie has always been a very confident child in social situations and happy to run off and play with new children. On her first day she showed us this by quickly kissing us goodbye and running into her classroom with no turning back, whilst other children clung onto their parents as they entered the classroom. We were told we could stay with her for the first morning if needed but decided not to as she showed us independence and we wanted to give her that (I was secretly disappointed as wanted to experience kindergarten again - as I went through the whole system and so..... loved it.) However, by Tuesday evening she was saying she did not want to go to Kindergarten - she said she didn't like it and when I asked her why she said she didn't like the food. I have to admit the food is very healthy - lots of lentils and vegetable stews etc - which is different from what we normally cook for her - we tend to do more classic toddler food - carrot sticks and hummus etc. Elfie’s dislike of the food became a big issue and the next morning she begged me not to take her. In the end I had to go in with her and let her cry on my lap begging me not to go. After 15 minutes her teacher advised me to leave and said if it got worse she'd call me to come back. I left her crying her eyes out and to be honest crying myself. It was so unlike her, which made it worse. She also told me that morning that she'd made no friends yet, which broke my heart. Luckily an hour later her teacher called to say she had settled down and was happily playing with the other children and although again she didn't want to go the next day she did not cry when I left (well not too much).
What we did to help with the food issue:
I realised I needed to do something to help with Elfie’s strong dislike of the food so I took a few actions:
- I asked for a copy of the weekly food menu.
- I bought key ingredients from the menu.
- I started to make similar food at home - slowly making it more like what they have at Kindergarten.
- I started a reward system for when Elfie tried the food and bigger rewards for eating it all.
By the following Wednesday she ate a whole bowl of millet stew! I was so proud and bought her a hula hoop to say well done. She is beginning to make friends and we planned a play date for her last weekend with one of her classmates to encourage this, which really helped. We also have a new childminder looking after her two afternoons so its all going to take time to settle down and once it does it will all change again with the arrival of new baby (due 9th November!) but we will get there…
I have to be honest and say I have been feeling very anxious about it all. The journey is almost an hour each way involving two buses, which I feel bad about and I am feeling guilty about working and not being able to pick her up everyday like a lot of the other mothers. This is all mixed up with settling in a new childminder and being heavily pregnant but things are already getting calmer and yesterday Elfie has a lovely day with her new childminder and seems happy every morning this week to go to school.
Why we chose Steiner Education for Elfie:
Celebration of Childhood: Steiner schools place strong emphasis on celebrating childhood and focusing on play - they place no rush on adult academic learning, which I love. I want Elfie to enjoy her childhood - to play, imagine and explore - there is no rush to learn to read and write and when she does learn she will be so ready that she will catch up quickly.
Routine and Rhythm: Routine and seasonal rhythm is very much the core of the kindergarten day. The children have a weekly activity and food menu and that is echoed by a seasonal rhythm - so for example the food is all seasonal and the activities are too - so conker collecting and apple crumble making in autumn.
The Magic of the Festivals and Celebrations: Steiner schools celebrate many folk festivals and place a lot of energy in preparing for them to make them special for the children. This of course again reinforces the idea of seasonal rhythm and helps the children understand about the changing year. This is something I have such strong memories of from my childhood at a Steiner school and the only word I can describe for it is 'magical'. It's also something we try to echo on our blog.
Natural Toys: All the toys in Kindergarten are made from natural materials like wood and cloth and when possible hand crafted. They are simple toys that allow the children to be imaginative about how they use them rather than direct children’s play - like a toy that has a button for noise. If you would like to buy toys like this for your home I love Myriad Toys. These toys also help teach children about quality and the time that goes into making things.
Calm Space: Steiner schools are very calm spaces and in particular kindergarten. The colour palette is very gentle and there is lots of white space - no visual clutter on the walls like you get in many schools.
Beauty: Everything is done with care and beauty. The signs are hand crafted, the classrooms beautifully decorated and every toy or cup is considered and good quality.
Love: The teachers are encouraged to love the children and give lots of gentle affection. The class teacher, which a class has from class 1-8 (age 7-14) is almost a second parent in the child’s life striving to create another healthy relationship between the child and another adult in a position of care.
Mixed Age and Gender Groups: All Steiner schools are mixed sex, something which I feel very strongly about the benefits of. I want Elfie to grow up seeing boys as friends and equals rather than as potential boyfriends. Kindergarten is mixed age too from 3.5-6.5 so the children learn together and support each other in different ways much like a family does.
Outdoor Time: No matter what the weather the children have outdoor play time and reap the benefits of fresh air and outdoor play and exploration. I love this and think its so healthy (plus it gives them a good appetite and helps them sleep better at night).
Healthy Food & Communal Meal Time: All the food is healthy and organic where possible. This gives the children an appetite for healthy food from a young age. Meal times are a real social focus, in which most days the children prepare food for and every day sit together with candle light to enjoy.