Tuesday, July 28, 2020

An overview of our Early Childhood Years

I wrote up a long, detailed post for a friend on how we arranged the kids' previous early childhood years, and decided to post it here, mostly in case I want to refer to it again at some point.  :)
We didn't follow a "curriculum" per say in my kids' early childhood years, but more of a methodology based (mostly) on the Waldorf philosophy with a little bit of Montessori thrown in, where I saw it fitting my particular kiddos well. 

The biggest way we "schooled" was through the rhythm we kept.  We had a rhythm to our days (not necessarily a schedule) and a rhythm to our week.  

Our mornings typically started (after breakfast) with a nature walk with the main focus of observing nature (not the walk itself or the destination).  We walked in every type of weather, as that was a type of observation in itself.  

Each of us had a little fabric nature satchel that we brought along.  We often collected neat rocks or feathers or leaves or acorns to take home to observe more or display on our nature table (more on that).  Usually we went out for 20-30ish minutes to the little greenbelt by our house.  Revisiting the same aren meant that we got to observe the changes the seasons brought.  We stopped and watched fire ants in an ant pile.  We sat and watched a squirrel take nuts up and down a tree.  We picked up colored leaves from the ground in the fall.  We saw goldenrods blooming, that always told us fall was near.  We saw the little leaf buds begin to peek out in the spring.  We saw crawdad holes when it was wet after a week of rains.  Etc., etc., etc.  We slowed down and observed, talked often about what we saw...Some days we went on bigger nature walks to nature parks or a field we had noticed on our way home from the grocery store, etc.  

After our nature walk, we had a snack time and our "morningtime."  For snack, I usually pulled out a big crystal relish-type plate that has 3 little compartments and put some nuts, fruit and veggies on it for snack (tried to do whole foods).  We also brewed a pot of herbal tea (which we'd drink over ice in the summer).  The kids helped prepare snack time.  One would get to choose what type of tea we were making and put the tea bags into the teapot and put the teacups on the table.  The other kid would arrange the fruits and nuts (I'd just set out the large containers from the pantry/fridge) and they would arrange them on the snack plate and then put everyone's little individual saucer on the table.  Of course, in each of these simple tasks the kids were learning language and math and science skills--as we read the names of the teas on the boxes (and they realized that the peach tea had a peach on the front and a P like Papa's name) and that the water changed color when you put the teabags into it...and that the water in the kettle steamed when it got really hot and you could hear the bubbles from the boil...and that if you left the hot water in the teapot it would cool....and how ice cubes look when they are melting in a cup of hot tea...and one-to-one correspondence as you dole out the strawberries equally....

For morningtime we focused on our literacy time.  We sang our hymn of the month (I usually just chose one but now I love the Happy Hymnody website).  We'd start the month just listening to the hymn play while we snacked and then I would turn it on other times during the day, and eventually the kids would start singing along.  I read aloud a book or two that went with that season or just ones that I wanted them to hear.  We had some little cards with seasonal or fun poems/fingerplays/songs/chants (maybe 5-6?) that I would read to them (and they'd memorize lickity split).  We had a memory verse each month from the Bible.  Often we would write or draw cards for someone--if there was a birthday or a sickness, and we also have always done encouragement cards for several people in our village, so I keep a big stack of cardstock cut to card size and they would draw cards for "our people."  We spent about 20-30 total minutes on morning literacy time.  We did the hymn and the read-aloud and the memory verse every day, and we'd start out the month with maybe 1-2 poems (or fingerplays or songs) and then add more as they learned them.  As my kids entered the kindergarten years--5ish, we added in "story," where I told a simple story using some small objects as models.  Often these were fairy tales or seasonal stories.  I'd tell the same story each day of the week, and as the week went on, i'd pause to allow the kids to fill in the details.  Then by the end of the week I'd give them a chance to tell the story and move the objects.  More details on this, if you want.  

One day a week we baked bread.  This is a very waldorf early childhood thing to do.  The exposure to following a simple recipe (usually I did the measuring of the items while I spoke aloud what I was doing and then let the kids pour them into our baking bowl).  The kids get to take part in mixing the bread by hand, which is wonderful for their motor skills and also sensory exploration.  Then we varied on how we formed our bread to bake it.  If we had observed lots of acorns around that day on our nature walk, I might say, "Remember all those acorns we saw today on our walk?  Let's see if we can make our little balls of bread dough into acorns!"  I'd hand each kiddo a manageable sized ball of dough and let them form their shape.  Other weeks we would work together to make one large item--maybe a big cat, like the one we'd read about in our story that day.  We most often baked the whole-wheat waldorf bread (that we ate for afternoon snacks for several days that week with honey or jam or cheese slices) but I also brought in other recipes at times, such as muffins or scones or pieces, often based on the seasons.  As the kids got older, they took on more roles in the bread-baking, until they could really do it all by themselves.  Sometimes we added other items into our breads--crasins, sliced almonds, cheese we grated ourselves, etc.  I can give you the simple recipe if you want it.

After morning time, we'd typically have some free play time.  Waldorf believes strongly in the concept of structuring the day as a "breath in-breath out" type of flow.  A breath in means that the child is taking in their environment.  Morning time is a breath in experience, as the child is taking in the words and songs, etc.  So after that, I'd want to follow it with a less structured, child led playtime.  Of course we always had our playroom as a learning experience all on its own, as it was set up with materials that were age apprpriate and varied and encouraged pretend play.  I'd try to have a pretend play/homemaking area, a block or building area, some books that rotated in and out, and then any other items that fit with my kids' current development.  Sometimes this free play took place in the playroom and sometimes it took place outside in our little play area, depending on the time of year.  

After free play, we had some type of art exploration every day.  Quinn has always been my more artsy child and Beck was not as into it as she ways, but I still felt it was important that he participate with us, to develop attention span and perseverance and fine motor skills and the ability to sit and attend in an age-appropriate way.  We rotated through different mediums on different days.  

Drawing:  Large beeswax Stockmar crayons on large pieces of paper  (often I drew with them and if it fit naturally, I spoke aloud while I drew my picture so they could see my thinking/drawing process)  
(sometimes it was free-drawing of whatever they wanted, sometimes we drew things together, such as pumpkins in the fall or maybe a butterfly we'd seen that day, but I didn't ever force them to draw a particular thing, and we always made drawing time a fun, encouraging, positive experience that everyone participated in)

Beeswax modeling: Stockmar beeswax; liek drawing, sometimes we all made our own items and other times we made something based on a theme.  I can provide more details about beeswax modeling if you want them.  A super activity for fine motor development and requires a lot of patience!

Watercolor Painting: We used the waldorf method, which uses liquid watercolors (not the pallette type) and wet-on-wet method.  More details if desired.

Handwork: age-appropriate projects--sewing large buttons on an embroidery hoop, finger-knitting, stringing beads on a pipecleaner or string, etc.  

We didn't necessarily have an art experience dedicated to each day of the week, which made it nice when we ended up going somewhere or having a playdate/dr appt/ helping a family member, etc.  Basically I just had all of the materials ready in our little art cabinet and whatever art experience we did last, we rotated on to the next one.  This required very little prep time on my behalf and lots of flexibility.  Sometimes we also rotated in seasonal art experiences--leaf rubbings, flower pressing, etc. during this time, and just paused our regular art experience rotation temporarily.  

Usually after art we had lunch.  Often we'd lunch outside, if the weather worked out.  Then the kids would help clean up lunch and we'd have a read aloud time on my bed before rest time.  Then rest time for all.  Both my kiddos boycotten napping at 18 months, but we still continue to have an hour of quiet time in rooms.  They usually listen to audiobooks on cd while they play in their room.

After rest time we had a sensory time at the table.  I had several choices of sensory play ready to go in my art cabinet, so we rotated through different items.
Bean tray
Water tray
Cracked corn
Dried oats
Flower cutting/Arranging
Shaving Cream

Sometimes we did sensory exploration outside...we had a sand box and a cracked corn box they could play in.  

Lots of examples listed under the tabs as "sensory."

I typically sat down with them and started playing/exploring along with them to give them some gentle guidance, but after a few minutes they got into it on their own!  Usually while they finished up with the sensory play, I would prepare our afternoon snack.  

After snack, we had more outdoor time and this was usually when we did our gross motor play--bikes, scooters, walking to the playground, driving to a park, running around with the neighbors in the front yard, playing in the sprinkler, drawing a hopscotch, etc.  

And that was it!  

Nature table:  We always kept a little nature table in our kitchen.  It was the top of a bookshelf.  The kids were primarily in charge of it and we had some pretty fabrics we'd change out for the tablecloth during various seasons, and then they could collect things outside to display-dead dragonflies, feathers, acorns, rocks....They could bring the items in their satchels from our nature walks and put them on the nature table.  Every month or so we'd clear it off (somewhat) with the kids' involvement, and then rearrange it a bit.  Sometimes we added little figures or seasonal items.  It was a great place for the kids to come back and re-examine things they had found.  As they got older we added in a small magnifying glass and some nature identification books, as well as some guides we created ourselves--the trees in our yard, types of butterflies that came to our house, etc.  

For Montessori inclusions, I used a lot of the practical life and self-care strategies.  I had a little rug (similar to the one your kids use in my entry way) with several shoe cut outs on it where my kids were responsible for storing their shoes in their closets.  We kept all our napkins and silverware and a set of dishes down at kid level.  I taught them to set the table and they would have increasing (age appropriately) responsibility for setting the table at dinner.  Montessori and Waldorf both place emphasis on bringing beauty into the world of children, so we had a little cupboard with a few different tealight candle holders and small vases, etc.  Quinn adored setting up the table centerpiece every couple of days.  Beck wasn't as into this, but sometimes he wanted to.  Mostly because if you set the table you got to use the match to light the candles. :)  I keep a set of cleaning washcloths down where they could reach them, as well as a bottle of cleaner, and they would help with cleaning the table and chairs.  I kept a tiny broom and dustpan and they would help sweep up under the table after meals or if they spilled anything.  We had a small whisk broom in the garage (a regular-sized one with a wooden handle that Matt cut down to child size) and they helped me sweep off the patio.  I always included them in as many kitchen tasks as possible, as well.  Food prep and clean up.  They would put away the silverware from the dishwasher, etc.  Also we used real, breakable dishes with the kids starting as toddlers. Both philosophies believe in the concept of teaching care in handling materials, and for children to handle things carefully, they have to handle fragile objects.  Obviously I didn't use precious china, but we did use real, beautiful teacups (from the thrift store!) and real saucers for plates for our lunches and snackls, and regular ceramic dinnerwear for our meals.  Honestly, so few things got broken because my kids understood that they were fragile.  Equally important, it is necessary for kids to see things break occasionally, partly to learn how to clean something up carefully and safely, and also just to see what happens for the cause-effect relationship.  Both of my kiddos had a special teacup that was theirs and they had a lot of ownership for them.  When I taught in the toddler classroom at the little lab school where I worked, they used real dishes with the two year olds and people touring would always freak out.  It was funny because us teachers always broke more dishes (by trying to stack piles too high or hurrying too much) than the kids ever did, and whenever we broke something, a litany of kiddos would rush over with their little brooms and dustpans and know how to safely clean up the shards.  It was adorable.  
I have lots of posts on what we did for practical life on my little education blog if you want any more ideas.  

I didn't introduce many "abstract" academic concepts (math, reading) to my kids prior to first grade, which Waldorf believes is when children are truly ready for these.  If the kids showed interest in a concept or asked about it, I honored that and answered/showed them, but I didn't give them any workbooks or anything like that.  

We also had little songs that went along with all the different times of our day that indicated the flow of the day and helped the kids move through transitions.