By Kristan Stephens, Lark Song Kindergarten Teacher
One of the foundational principles of our kindergarten program is that play is the best way to enable young children to learn and develop. Rudolph Steiner believed, and current research shows, that play promotes healthy development of foundational skills including self-regulation, language, cognition, and social competence. As children play they have a meaningful and authentic reason to cooperate, imagine, explore, experiment, and discuss. Play promotes active involvement in purposeful activities as children construct their own understanding of the world.
As we move through the school year, I have noticed the children becoming more and more engaged in their play. They seem to be more creative and cooperative every day! For example, one week the children set up a delivery service where one child delivered gifts and toys to all the others. The other children then placed orders for more items and paid for their deliveries with an abundance of shells, rocks, and leaves they had gathered from the yard. It was wonderful to see them all engaged in such a rich play experience, which filled their mornings for many days in a row. I have also seen an increase in collaborative efforts on the outside yard as I have watched groups of children come together to create an elaborate structure, which they referred to as the “apartment complex.” The children gathered logs and sticks and created a complex network of small apartment homes which connected to one another. While some were busy building the exterior structure, others were off gathering materials to decorate the interior. I heard so much brainstorming, problem-solving, and cooperative language from them as they worked over the course of the week. Meanwhile, the littlest children found joy in simply sitting nearby to observe the work of the older children or to build their own small version of a home beneath a bush or play structure. In this way, they too were participating without having to be a part of the big work, but by taking in what was happening and recreating it inwardly or in their own way. What a joy it is to see the children so focused, creative, and industrious in their play! It is these experiences that will carry them forward into the lower school and provide the foundation for a later capacity to focus, attend, and creatively engage with their lessons as they move through the grades.