When we put children under pressure to grow up too quickly, we rob them of the chance to develop qualities that are essential and unique to their age. The fast-paced society we know today has little awareness of or respect for the needs of children. Education is therefore called upon to create spaces where children can truly experience their childhood. By doing so the qualities which contribute to creative independence in adulthood are nurtured and enhanced.
"A Garden for Children" – those words call up the inner image which lies behind our work with young children. It is a place where they can play and feel free to follow their creative impulses. Coming in, you feel you have landed in a big warm kitchen or in a storehouse, in a place where there are baskets and boxes storing away the treasures children love to play with. It looks as though these treasures had been gathered on long walks down the sea shore or through the woods and that they include all those fascinating bits and pieces one can't possibly do without: crooked roots and pine cones, sticks and stones, shells and chestnuts - but also ribbons and buttons, pieces of dyed materials, silk, cotton, wool or linen.
Everything is very simple, nothing is ready made - the children are expected to do their work with the materials the earth has to offer.
Meals, too, are prepared with the children's help. When grace has been said, the whole group eat together, children and adults. The kindergarten teachers do the work, they cook the meals and clean the rooms, they care for the garden. The children see all this being done, and, as they grow older, they are able to join in. They build structures of all the materials at their disposal, the small tables are turned upside down and become sailing ships, chairs are lined up to be part of a railway train. The coloured cloths turn into dolls or animals, the larger pieces can be roofs or robes, or whatever is necessary at any given moment. No one interferes with these activities or instructs the children as to what they are supposed to do.
The kindergarten teachers at their work form a quiet but active presence in the background.
A Waldorf Kindergarten is not meant to be a small-scale copy of the adult world. There are no finished toys demanding to be used in a predetermined way, no little plastic telephones that can only be used as such. If children wish to play at telephoning, truck-loading or anything else, there are plenty of pieces of wood, cloth, fir-cones and so on that can instantly be transformed into whatever the child wants. The Kindergarten is an artistically shaped free space, a warm environment serving as the setting for what the day's impulse demands. Imagination and initiative - what is best and most creative in the human being - can unfold and be active in the unhurried way all development requires.
From the adult point of view, play and work seem to be totally incompatible. We often believe child's play to be simple, superficial, unimportant. Any open-minded person who is concerned with bringing up children soon becomes aware of the fact that, to a child, play is an activity that demands ones's full, serious, and undisturbed application. In play children develop skills on the physical level and their faculties ripen and differentiate. The imagination of children immediately affects the will. Here, the powers of initiative and creativity which are so important in later life, are nurtured at their very source. Watching a child at play, we can often catch an impression of what the style and quality of his work may be in later life, even of what field is likely to be fruitful for the energies that are already at work. An adult's work is directed at a definite aim, is shaped by a certain purpose.
Children play without an ultimate conscious aim. The direction and the form of their activity are determined by the present moment, they are guided by life itself and, almost unnoticeably, the activity itself supports the gradual development of the individual children.Jürgen Flinspach