Within the Reggio Emilia approach, and now in many early childhood programs, the environment where children spend their time is typically called the third teacher. The environment helps determines the flow of the day, what children learn and how they interact with one another. Having the right amount, variety, and types of materials in an early childhood classroom will make the day run more smoothly and will be more engaging for the children, thus in turn will make it easier for the teacher.  

Knowing the why, when, and how to rotate toys is important and a worthwhile task, based upon information gathered through child observations. Through observations of the children in care, we can determine if, when, and what types of materials need to be rotated in the environment. The provider knows the children in their care very well and soon can see patterns emerge that will help the provider make specific adjustments in the environment.  

Let’s consider some of the reasons why we rotate toys in a childcare environment.  

A child may have mastered a certain skill and by changing specific materials in the classroom we can help scaffold the child to the next skill level. Children learn through facing appropriate challenges, but it’s important to make the challenge achievable. We don’t want the child to feel frustrated or lose interest. A skilled teacher is able to observe students and notice these small changes and find materials that will spark curiosity and interest. We may want to teach a new skill. Placing new toys and materials in the classroom can help a child learn a new skill, such as sequencing, stacking, or balancing. We may also want to challenge that skill and make it slightly more difficult by adding something new to use. Safety is top priority so make sure that items placed in the environment are safe for all ages of the children in the classroom. This can be challenging in multi age programs but can be overcome with a little planning and thought. A child’s individual interests will also play a part in the items we choose. We know that children will play with things that interest them. Having materials of interest will mean the children will explore and play with things that interest them and that are relatable and familiar to them. Common household items that children are familiar with are good to add when possible. 

Now let’s take a look at when we might remove certain materials from the classroom environment. When children have lost interest, aren’t playing with as intended or are mistreating the materials, this is a good time to remove them and find materials that the children are interested in. Intended uses of toys and materials may vary from item to item. I believe that a toy does not necessarily have to be used exclusively for its intended purpose. I believe children should be able to use their imagination and creativity and use items in different ways, not just the way intended from the manufacturer. Items that are distracting and stress inducing should be removed. Some children are more sensitive to certain colors, sounds, and even how much is available in the environment for the children at one time. Remember less is more.  

Finally, how we display items in the environment helps convey to the children what is expected of them and where items belong. Neatly placing items on a shelf helps children put things away on their own.  Labeling shelves and baskets make clean up a breeze. They can also see and reach what they would like to play with, and this allows for independence. Placing similar items together on the shelf in an aesthetically pleasing way, where children can see them shows we care about our materials and toys, and they deserve a place in the space.  Don’t over crowd the environment. Less really is more in childcare. If too many choices are available to children, they don’t play well with any of them. Choose items that interest the children and things they are familiar with and see in their day to day lives. We want these items to be relatable to children and familiar. Children want to use “real” things they see in their everyday lives. If teaching a theme, we may want to choose items that relate to the theme being taught or based upon the current season. Rotating 1-2 things a week and making adjustments as needed is less stressful on children than changing everything at one time.  

Creating an organized and inviting environment is not difficult. With a little planning and time, you can create a relaxing and organized childcare space to enjoy for children and teachers alike.  

Doing this simple task helps build meaningful and respectful relationships with families. It’s the first interaction the family may have each day and will go a long way in helping families feel welcome. Calling the parent by their name (unless otherwise specified by the parent) and their child by their own name, makes it personal. We want parents to know we are happy to see them and their child and greeting them by their first name is much nicer and more personal than just saying “hello”. If you are unsure how to pronounce their name, it’s best to politely mention you are unsure and ask them how to say it and repeat it back.  

Each day talk to the family and share something their child did that was positive. Either a new skill learned, or an interaction with another child you observed that was especially nice are examples. Try to be engaging, smile and actively listen.  Daily conversations build trust and allows for other conversations to evolve over time, allowing you to learn about the family and their child. When trust is built, families are more comfortable sharing information that may be helpful in meeting the child’s needs and in some cases the family’s needs as well.

Displays around the classroom should represent all children. They should depict varying abilities, languages, and cultures. This need to be done in a non-stereotypical way. The environment should include a combination of pictures, books, dolls, music, and household items that are familiar to children and things they would find in their own home and community. Ask families to bring in family photos of all family members, doing activities they enjoy as a family. Display and make classroom books with them.  Displays should be at both child height and parents’ height. Offering seating for adults to sit shows families that they are welcome to stay awhile, and you care about their comfort.  

When families can participate one way or another in the childcare program, they feel invested and included. Childcare programs have many different task to manage throughout the year, why not get the help of the families. Parents usually are very happy to lend a hand or offer skills or services they may have. It’s also fun to get the whole family involved. Some ways parents can volunteer might be,  a spring or fall clean up on the playground, repairing equipment, sewing things for the classroom, reading a book to the children, or doing a cooking activity with a small group of children. Remember that not all families will be able nor want to volunteer in the classroom  and we want to be respectful of this. Providing a list of things, parents can work on at home will allow these families to also feel valued and connected too. Remember part of feeling welcome is knowing you are valued no matter how or if you choose to participate. 

Create a specific area in the childcare program where parents can go to get resources pertinent to child development, parenting, health and safety, product recall information and child nutrition as well as social service supports and free events available in your area.  Providing resources that pertain to parenting and child development will let parents know that you care about their family outside the walls of the childcare. The location should stay consistent so parents will know where to find these resources and can visit without the help of staff. Providing a small lending library if you’re able, may be useful too. Keep this area uncluttered and organized so parents will want to visit and can find what they are looking for. Remove outdated information in a timely manner. 

La Educación Infantil puede tener muchas palabras de moda y malentendidos. Esta serie de ” Enfoques de Filosofía ” intenta presentar el origen de una serie de filosofías que se utilizan actualmente, directamente de los textos de sus fundadores y practicantes expertos, y también prácticas e ideas modernas asociadas con estas filosofías. Tenga en cuenta que muchas de las filosofías y filósofos a los que hacemos referencia en EE.UU. son de origen eurocéntrico. Haré todo lo posible por integrar filosofías del desarrollo y el aprendizaje de un conjunto más diverso de conocimientos, en beneficio de todos los niños y proveedores. Observará que las filosofías se superponen en gran medida, al igual que algunas diferencias muy marcadas. Utilice estos artículos para reflexionar sobre su propio enfoque de la educación infantil y, tal vez, para afinar la manera en que percibe su trabajo y diseña su programa. Estos artículos son sólo una visión general; si desea obtener más información sobre cada uno de ellos, consulte las referencias.

Orígenes: Después de que Italia fuese destruida como poder fascista durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial, hubo un movimiento para reconstruir el país de forma que apoyara a sus ciudadanos en la búsqueda de la libertad frente a la opresión. La primera escuela de Reggio Emilia fue construida por familias que buscaban crear una nueva escuela para sus hijos mientras reconstruían su comunidad. Rápidamente se convirtieron en una red de centros preescolares y guarderías durante los años sesenta y setenta. En 1991, Newsweek nombró a la escuela Diana, uno de los centros preescolares de Reggio Emilia, una de las mejores escuelas del mundo.

Organismos reguladores/estándares modernos: El término ” Método Reggio Emilia ” es una marca registrada, lo que hace que muchos programas describan su filosofía como ” Inspirado en Reggio “, aunque no existe ningún organismo regulador fuera de Italia que controle el uso del término. Una escuela no puede ser certificada como escuela Reggio Emilia, ni un profesor puede ser un profesor Reggio Emilia certificado. Existen organizaciones en la Red Internacional que promueven la difusión de información sobre el método Reggio Emilia, pero no actúan como reguladores.

Teorías y teóricos:

Loris Malaguzzi se considera como el fundador del método Reggio Emilia. Era psicólogo titulado en pedagogía y anteriormente había cofundado una escuela para niños con discapacidades y dificultades de aprendizaje. Mientras trabajaba allí, se le propuso colaborar con la nueva red de centros preescolares y guarderías.

Valores:

Los niños participan activamente en su proceso de crecimiento: Cada niño puede y tiene derecho a crear su propia experiencia como individuo y miembro de un gran colectivo.

Progettazione/Diseño: La educación se moldea a través del diseño de entornos, la participación y el diseño de situaciones de aprendizaje. No ocurre en el mismo grado en los programas prediseñados o en los currículos prefabricados.

Los cien lenguajes: Los cien lenguajes de los niños es una metáfora del potencial de los niños y de sus procesos de pensamiento y creatividad. Es un valor central para honrar todas las formas de autoexpresión de los niños igualmente.

Sin dudas, los cien están allí: Un poema de Loris Malaguzzi (traducido por M. Pilar Martínez-Agut and Carmen Ramos Hernando)

El niño

está hecho de cien.

El niño tiene cien lenguas

cien manos

cien pensamientos

cien maneras de pensar

de jugar y de hablar

cien siempre cien

maneras de escuchar

de sorprenderse de amar

cien alegrías

para cantar y entender

cien mundos

que descubrir

cien mundos

que inventar

cien mundos

que soñar.

EL niño tiene

cien lenguas

(y además de cien cien cien)

pero le roban noventa y nueve.

La escuela y la cultura

le separan la cabeza del cuerpo.

Le dicen:

de pensar sin manos

de actuar sin cabeza

de escuchar y no hablar

de entender sin alegría

de amar y sorprenderse

sólo en Pascua y en Navidad.

Le dicen:

que descubra el mundo que ya existe

y de cien le roban noventa y nueve.

Le dicen:

que descubra el mundo que ya existe

y de cien le roban noventa y nueve.

Le dicen:

que el juego y el trabajo

la realidad y la fantasía

la ciencia y la imaginación

el cielo y la tierra

la razón y el sueño

son cosas que no van juntas

Y le dicen

que el cien no existe

El niño dice:

«en cambio el cien existe».

Participación: A los niños se les invita a participar en las relaciones, en el aula y en la comunidad. De este modo, los niños adquieren el “sentimiento de solidaridad, responsabilidad e inclusión, y producen cambios y nuevas culturas” (Niños de Reggio).

El aprendizaje como proceso de construcción, subjetivo y en grupo: Cada niño construye su propio conocimiento, a través de la conversación, la investigación y el debate.

Investigación educativa: Los adultos que interactúan con niños deben verse a sí mismos como investigadores y utilizar su documentación como investigación acerca de los niños, los grupos de niños y el aprendizaje. Los educadores deben animarse a seguir construyendo y reconstruyendo sus conocimientos y prácticas.

Documentación educativa: Adultos y niños toman vídeos, fotos y muestras del trabajo para documentar el aprendizaje de los niños. Estos documentos se utilizan para provocar el debate entre los educadores, los niños y entre los educadores y los niños.

Organización: El tiempo, el espacio y el trabajo se organizan para reflejar los valores de la escuela y los proyectos.

Entorno y espacios: Tanto los espacios interiores como los exteriores están diseñados y organizados para interactuar con las personas que los ocupan, dar forma a las experiencias de aprendizaje e inspirar el pensamiento y la creatividad. El cuidado y mantenimiento del entorno es fundamental, por lo que la estética del espacio intenta crear placer y alegría en las personas que lo utilizan.

Formación/Crecimiento profesional: El crecimiento profesional es un derecho de cada educador y de todo el grupo. En Reggio Emilia, el desarrollo profesional es parte del tiempo laboral de los educadores, y ocurre dentro de las reuniones de equipo y en el contexto más amplio de la ciudad, nacional e internacional.

Evaluación: Las escuelas deben ser evaluadas con frecuencia por sus coordinadores, educadores, miembros de la comunidad y familias, para garantizar que satisfacen las necesidades de los niños y las familias.

Lo que podría observar en un programa inspirado en Reggio:

Muchos programas inspirados en Reggio Emilia ponen un gran énfasis en las artes, especialmente en las representaciones visuales y la planificación, junto con la exploración guiada de materiales de artes visuales. Es probable que haya documentación del trabajo de los niños colgada para niños y adultos. Con frecuencia, los niños de los programas inspirados en Reggio utilizan más “piezas sueltas” en vez de juguetes tradicionales. Siguiendo el valor de Reggio de diseñar, se les ofrece a los niños “provocaciones”, que son conjuntos de materiales diseñados para que los niños exploren y experimenten con ellos para provocar su pensamiento y ampliar sus intereses. Las provocaciones pueden ser una cubeta con pequeñas pelotas y rampas; crayones sin envoltorio, hojas y papel fino para hacer grabados; cajas, cinta adhesiva y crayones para crear; o cualquier otra cosa que los niños puedan utilizar para llevar a cabo experimentos sobre sus propios intereses.

Influencia en los programas modernos de educación infantil en general:

Muchos programas utilizan documentación pedagógica para mostrar a las familias lo que han estado haciendo los niños. El juego de piezas sueltas también está mucho más extendido en los programas de educación infantil.

Preguntas para la reflexión:

Cuando se considera a sí mismo no sólo como educador, sino como investigador de los niños, ¿cómo influye esto en su perspectiva de trabajo? ¿Qué haría diferente siendo investigador que siendo educador?

¿Cómo se diferencia la documentación del resto de las muestras del trabajo de los niños?

Cuando piensa en su entorno, ¿favorece o perjudica la misión y la visión de su programa? ¿Qué le gustaría cambiar?

What can a child learn from a fight? A lot, with the right opportunities.

A dispute with a peer can teach a child about how to voice their own needs, how to weigh the needs of another, and how to compromise and problem-solve with others.

In the Japanese practice of Mimamoru (literally, “watch and protect”), early childhood practitioners are trained to intervene minimally and later than many American early childhood educators would expect, while still closely observing children’s fights. The principle behind this is that while the adult’s role is to protect the children, children need the experience of navigating social complexity to build their social skills. A child who hits another and is then sent away from the activity learns that the adult nearby doesn’t want them to hit but does not learn how to get their needs met. When that same adult stop in, checks on the child who was hit, and helps both children verbalize their wants and needs, both children have the opportunity to understand each other and find a solution.

Perhaps the more difficult situation here is one where the attacks aren’t physical, but emotional. Relational aggression (e.g. “You’re not my friend!” or “You can’t come to my birthday party!”) can be more difficult to intervene in, and harder to spot. This also tends to peak in late preschool and early elementary years as children refine their definition of friendships and understand what it means to be a friend, as well as the power that comes from being included or excluding others.

In either act of aggression, how can the educator offer a learning opportunity instead of simply managing or shutting down the behavior? People are born with the desire to connect, and emotional resilience, as well as a guiding moral voice. What needs to be scaffolded are the skills to advocate for oneself and listen to and hypothesize about others’ perspectives.

First, look at the purpose of adult interventions: no one wants the children to be hurt, physically or emotionally. But in the same way that learning to walk comes with a few tumbles, learning to be a friend and participant in a community comes with its own missteps. If children cannot learn from each other and us when they’re small, they won’t have the experience to navigate social relationships as they become more complex.

This is the platform on which larger concepts of restorative justice are built; instead of punishing the person who harmed another, we work to ensure that the person who was hurt is comforted, and the person who did the hurting has the resources to avoid doing it again.

Questions for your reflection:

Early Childhood Education can have a lot of buzzwords and misunderstandings. This “Philosophy Spotlight” series intends to introduce you to the origins of a number of currently used philosophies directly from the writings of their founders and accomplished practitioners, as well as modern practices and ideas associated with these philosophies. Note that many of the philosophies and philosophers we reference in the US are Euro-centric in origin. I will do my best to integrate philosophies of development and learning from a more diverse body of knowledge, for the benefit of all children and providers. You’ll notice a significant amount of overlap between philosophies, as well as some stark differences. Use these articles to consider your own approach to early education, and maybe refine how you see you work and design your program. These are intended to be broad overviews; please see the references if you’d like to learn more about each one! 

Origins: After Italy had been destroyed as a fascist power during World War II, there was a movement to rebuild the country in a way that would support its citizens in pursuit of freedom from oppression. The first Reggio Emilia school was built by families seeking to create a new school for their children as they rebuilt their community. They quickly grew into a network of preschools and infant toddler centers through the 1960s and 70s. In 1991, Newsweek called the Diana school, one of Reggio Emilia’s preschools, one of the best schools in the world.

Modern Regulating Bodies/Standards: The term “Reggio Emilia Approach” is trademarked, leading to many programs describing their philosophy as “Reggio Inspired”, although there is no regulating body outside of Italy that controls the use of the term. A school cannot be certified as a Reggio Emilia school, nor can a teacher be a certified Reggio Emilia teacher. There are organizations in the International Network that further the spread of information about the Reggio Emilia approach, but do not serve as regulators.

Theories and Theorists:

Loris Malaguzzi is considered the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach. He was a psychologist trained in pedagogy and had previously co-founded a school for children with disabilities and learning difficulties. While working there, he was approached to collaborate with the new network of preschools and infant-toddler centers.

Values:

Children are active protagonists in their growing processes: Every child can and has the right to create their own experiences as an individual and member of a larger group.

Progettazione/Designing: Education is shaped by the design of environments, participation, and the design of learning situations. It does not happen to the same degree in predesigned programs or curricula that are premade.

The hundred languages: The Hundred Languages of Children are a metaphor for the potential of children and their thinking and creative processes. It is a central value to honor all of children’s forms of self-expression equally.

No way. The hundred is there: A Poem by Loris Malaguzzi (translated by Lella Gandini)

No way. The hundred is there.

The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.

A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.

The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

Participation: Children are welcomed to participate in relationships, in the classroom and community. This is to give children the “feeling of solidarity, responsibility, and inclusion, and produce changes and new cultures” (Reggio Children).

Learning as a process of construction, subjective and in groups: Every child constructs their own knowledge, through conversation, research, and discussion.

Educational research: Adults interacting with children should see themselves as researchers and use their documentation as research into children, groups of children, and learning. Educators should be encouraged to continue constructing and reconstructing their knowledge and practices.

Educational documentation: Adults and children take videos, photos, and work samples to document the learning the children are engaging in. These documents are used to provoke discussion and through between educators, between children, and between educators and children together.

Organization: Time, space, and work are all organized to reflect the values of the school and projects.

Environment and spaces: Interior and exterior spaces are all designed and organized to interact with the people in the space, shape learning experiences, and inspire thought and creativity. Care of the environment is critical, and maintaining the aesthetics of the space is intended to create pleasure and joy in the people who use the space.

Formation/Professional growth: Professional growth is the right of individual educators and the whole group. In Reggio Emilia, professional development is part of educators’ working time, and occurs within staff meetings and the larger city, national, and international context.

Evaluation: The schools should be evaluated frequently by their coordinators, educators, community members, and families to ensure that they are meeting the needs of the children and families.

What You Might Observe in a Reggio Inspired Program:

Many Reggio Emilia inspired programs place a heavy emphasis on the arts, particularly visual representations and planning, along with guided exploration of visual arts materials. There will likely be documentation of children’s work hanging up for children and adults. Oftentimes, children in Reggio Inspired programs use more “loose parts” than traditional toys. As part of the Reggio value of designing, children are offered “provocations” which are curated sets of materials designed for children to explore and experiment with to provoke their thinking and extend their interests. Provocations can look like a tray with small balls and ramps; unwrapped crayons, leaves, and thin paper for printmaking; boxes, tape, and crayons to create with; or anything else that children might use to carry out experiments on their own interests.

Influence on Modern ECE Programs at Large: 

Many programs use pedagogical documentation to show families what children have been participating in. Loose parts play is also becoming much more widespread in early childhood programs.

Questions for Your Reflection:

When you think of yourself as not just an educator, but a researcher of children, how does that influence your perspective on your work? What would you do differently as a researcher than as a teacher?

How does documentation differ from any other display of children’s work?

When you think about your environment, does it work with or against your program’s mission and vision? What would you like to change?

Early Childhood Education can have a lot of buzzwords and misunderstandings. This “Philosophy Spotlight” series intends to introduce you to the origins of a number of currently used philosophies directly from the writings of their founders and accomplished practitioners, as well as modern practices and ideas associated with these philosophies. Note that many of the philosophies and philosophers we reference in the US are Euro-centric in origin. I will do my best to integrate philosophies of development and learning from a more diverse body of knowledge, for the benefit of all children and providers. You’ll notice a significant amount of overlap between philosophies, as well as some stark differences. Use these articles to consider your own approach to early education, and maybe refine how you see you work and design your program. These are intended to be broad overviews; please see the references if you’d like to learn more about each one! 

Origins: Dr. Montessori was a physician who worked with disabled children, who were at the time isolated in asylums and assumed to be incapable of anything worthwhile. She believed that these children had more potential to be educated, and so she set about creating a method of education (pedagogy) to be used specifically for children with disabilities, with her first school opening in 1898. She quickly realized that typically developing children could benefit from her ideas as well.

Modern Regulating Bodies/Standards: the American Montessori Society offers an accreditation program for Montessori schools, but AMS accreditation is not required for a program to call itself Montessori or use its practices.

Theories and Theorists: “The school must permit the free, natural manifestations of the child” – Maria Montessori

Young children’s options for activities are known as “work,” to give appropriate value to their actions. In modern use, preschool children’s work is separated into the areas of practical life, sensorial, language, mathematics, biology, geography, and fine arts.

Values:

Independence: children in Montessori classrooms are encouraged to work independently, from taking their materials off of the shelf, to competing the work, to placing it back on the shelf the way they found it. They are also taught to prepare and serve their own snacks and clean up after themselves.

Teachers are known as “guides” to highlight their role as a facilitator rather than director.

Children should have freedom to determine what they will work on and for how long.

Materials and environment should be beautiful and convey their importance to children.

What You Might Observe in a Montessori Classroom:

Montessori Materials: While the term “Montessori” is used to sell many items now, the Montessori materials are specific creations by Dr. Montessori and her predecessor, Dr. Édouard Séguin. These include items like The Pink Tower, the Hundred Board, and sandpaper letters. There may be only one way to use the materials. For example, a child may or may not be allowed to build a structure other than the Pink Tower with the Pink Tower blocks, depending on the program.

Like the materials are taught to children in sequence with predictable outcomes, art is taught to young children with discrete skills. Children learn about the colors and their relationship to each other on a color wheel; how to use scissors and glue; hole punching; taking rubbings; and many other fine art skills. Dr. Montessori did not write much about how art was to be used in the classroom, so her followers have interpreted this in a range of ways. In general, you will see art materials displayed in lessons, the same way you would see other materials displayed for children’s use.

Mixed-age grouping: Montessori classrooms typically have children of a variety of ages in them. Often you will find a toddler class for children from approximately 18 months until 30 months. After toddler they’ll move to pre-primary, for three- to six-year-olds. The idea behind this is to allow maximum flexibility for children to develop their abilities as they are ready, rather than on a closed schedule tied to chronological age.

Books (and all materials) emphasize reality. Because young children have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality, Dr. Montessori believed that the books available to them should be rooted in reality, whether those are purely non-fiction or fictional books about the real world. In a traditional Montessori program, for example, you’re unlikely to see any books about talking animals or imaginary creatures. In general, fantasy play is discouraged, including dressing up in costumes. This does depend somewhat on the individual program and implementation.

Influence on Modern ECE Programs at Large: 

Dr. Montessori is the primary reason so many early childhood environments have child-sized furniture. She was also one of the early pioneers of approaches that place emphasis on children being able to touch and manipulate the things they’re learning about. In Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, she writes about multicolored carpet squares for children to use for seating– a practice many early childhood spaces use today.

Questions for Your Reflection:

How do you see your role in the with children as compared to a classical Montessori guide?

How are materials used in your program?

What types of materials are available for children in your program?

What role do the children take in the maintenance and preparation of their environment?

When and how do you use explicit instruction to guide children? When and how do they have the opportunity to self-correct or use self-correcting materials?

 

Early Childhood Education can have a lot of buzzwords and misunderstandings. This “Philosophy Spotlight” series intends to introduce you to the origins of a number of currently used philosophies directly from the writings of their founders and accomplished practitioners, as well as modern practices and ideas associated with these philosophies. Note that many of the philosophies and philosophers we reference in the US are Euro-centric in origin. I will do my best to integrate philosophies of development and learning from a more diverse body of knowledge, for the benefit of all children and providers. You’ll notice a significant amount of overlap between philosophies, as well as some stark differences. Use these articles to consider your own approach to early education, and maybe refine how you see you work and design your program. These are intended to be broad overviews; please see the references if you’d like to learn more about each one! 

Modern Regulating Bodies/Standards: 

Association of Waldorf Schools of North America offers accreditation for Waldorf schools through High School, and WECAN (Waldorf Early Childhood Assocation of North America) offers membership and allows participating organizations, including Family Child Care Homes, to use the term Waldorf.

Origins, Theories and Theorists:

The first Waldorf school was built in the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany in 1919. The factory owner asked Rudolf Steiner to start a school for his employees’ children after Steiner gave a speech there about social renewal in the wake of World War I. Steiner’s school

Steiner created Anthroposophy, a spiritual belief that aligns with Christianity but is not explicitly Christian. Waldorf schools are still influenced by anthroposophy, but the majority would not consider themselves religious.

“We must delay as long as possible the giving of mental concepts in purely intellectual form…man should fully awaken later in life, but the child must be allowed to remain as long as possible in the peaceful, dreamlike state of pictorial imagination of the early years. For if we allow the organism to grow strong in this way, he will develop in later life the intellectuality needed in the world today.” Rudolf Steiner, 1923

The Waldorf philosophy comes with a specific view of child development, spaced out in three phases of seven years each. Early childhood is thought of as the first seven years of life, and is a time for children to engage with physical materials and explore the world as well as their imagination. It is considered too early for intellectual or academic work.

Values: 

Creativity and fantasy– Steiner believed that young children live in a fantasy world, and thus should hear stories that continue to encourage their imagination, so as to develop their intuition. He also believed that fairy tales and other fantastical stories are internalized by children as allegories and accessed later as part of their subconscious spiritual and moral development.

Being outdoors and spending time in nature, observing the changes of the seasons and passing of time through ritual.

Limiting early academics. Children in Waldorf schools do not partake in any formal literacy instruction until first grade, and it is believed that academic expectations are a hindrance to a young child’s development.

Little to no use of electronics/technology, including recorded music, at least until upper grades (mostly high school).

Steiner believed that “the human being is a music being,” and placed great importance on children and adults alike creating music.

“Educating the head, the heart, and the hands” was how Steiner phrased his idea for holistic education. This could also be phrased as thinking, feeling, and doing, and represents educating the whole person. Young children in particular are primarily “hands”– they learn through doing, and active physical exploration.

Great emphasis on creative expression; Waldorf schools incorporate arts and music throughout the curriculum.

What You Might Observe in a Waldorf Early Childhood Program:

Practical life activities similar to Montessori; children are encouraged to help cook and serve food, as is developmentally appropriate.

A lot of art and music. Waldorf teachers and children sing together every day as part of their curriculum, and painting and drawing are valued highly, as are crafts such as felting and knitting, even for young children.

Puppets! Puppet Plays are a significant tradition in Waldorf education, intended to teach children the value of storytelling in different ways. These puppets are often very simple and frequently handmade from knotted cloths or felted wool.

Nature tables: low tables with sticks, leaves, stones, flowers, and other items brought inside from the natural world. The children seek out these objects as symbols of seasonal change; dry brown leaves in the fall are replaced with empty shed twigs in the winter, and then fresh green leaves in the spring.

Influence on Modern ECE Programs: 

Many modern early childhood programs place a strong emphasis on story telling with young children. An increasing number are bringing in natural artifacts in a way similar to a nature table.

Questions for Your Reflection:

What in your practice might align with Waldorf values?

How does your view of child development agree or disagree with Steiner?

What ideas in Steiner’s statements or in Waldorf schools as they are today challenge or align with beliefs you hold about young children?

Early Childhood Education can have a lot of buzzwords and misunderstandings. This “Philosophy Spotlight” series intends to introduce you to the origins of a number of currently used philosophies directly from the writings of their founders and accomplished practitioners, as well as modern practices and ideas associated with these philosophies. Note that many of the philosophies and philosophers we reference in the US are Euro-centric in origin. I will do my best to integrate philosophies of development and learning from a more diverse body of knowledge, for the benefit of all children and providers. You’ll notice a significant amount of overlap between philosophies, as well as some stark differences. Use these articles to consider your own approach to early education, and maybe refine how you see you work and design your program. These are intended to be broad overviews; please see the references if you’d like to learn more about each one! 

Modern Regulating Bodies/Standards: 

In the UK, there is the Forest School Association that accredits Forest Schools/Nature Based Programs

Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools offers teacher certifications.

There is no requirement to be affiliated with these or other regulating bodies to call a program a Forest or Nature School.

Origins, Theories and Theorists:

Forest schools have existed around the world since the early 1920s, with Sweden and Denmark beginning the practice as a type of informal early childhood education. It has expanded substantially in recent years, notably since 2012 and another expansion during and after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in Western Europe, Eastern Asia, and the United States.

From UK Forest School:

  1. Forest school is a long-term process of frequent and regular sessions in a woodland or natural environment, rather than a one-off visit. Planning, adaptation, observations and reviewing are integral elements of Forest School.
  2. Forest School takes place in a woodland or natural wooded environment to support the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world.
  3. Forest School aims to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners.
  4. Forest School offers learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves.
  5. Forest School is run by qualified Forest School practitioners who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice.
  6. Forest School uses a range of learner-centered processes to create a community for development and learning.

Values: 

Providers with outdoor/nature based programs value being outdoors in almost all weather.

Leaving nature as it is– stewardship of nature.

Following the seasons; helping children observe the way the world changes over time and in predictable ways.

Some nature programs teach children from a young age how to use a campfire to cook or use other tools to interact with the outdoors. A degree of risky play is often a draw of Forest Schools or Nature Based Programs, whether that’s allowing children to climb trees or rocks, or carry and play with fallen sticks.

A Forest School is distinct from other outdoor play due primarily to time spent outdoors, in amount each day as well as the length of time in months or years in one place. There is also great freedom of time and flexibility of schedule, rather than preplanned and limited time to be outdoors.

What You Might Observe in a Forest School:

Children outside in all weather conditions.

Children out of view of supervising adults.

Adults setting children’s boundaries at the beginning of each session, reminding them how far and in what areas they can explore, what the signal is to return, and where to come back together at that signal.

Risky play, including children using tools.

Few to no traditional toys or play materials.

Influence on Modern ECE Programs at Large: 

The Forest School movement has drawn attention to the benefits of time in nature for children and people of all ages, in physical health, mental health, and cognition.

Questions for Your Reflection:

How do I use my outdoor space and time?

What opportunities do children in my program have to notice daily, weekly, and seasonal changes?

What natural resources are available to me and the children in my care?

Early Childhood Education can have a lot of buzzwords and misunderstandings. This “Philosophy Spotlight” series intends to introduce you to the origins of a number of currently used philosophies directly from the writings of their founders and accomplished practitioners, as well as modern practices and ideas associated with these philosophies. Note that many of the philosophies and philosophers we reference in the US are Euro-centric in origin. I will do my best to integrate philosophies of development and learning from a more diverse body of knowledge, for the benefit of all children and providers. You’ll notice a significant amount of overlap between philosophies, as well as some stark differences. Use these articles to consider your own approach to early education, and maybe refine how you see you work and design your program. These are intended to be broad overviews; please see the references if you’d like to learn more about each one! 

Modern Regulating Bodies/Standards: 

No regulating body exists to officially designate a program as play based.

Origins, Theories and Theorists:

Friedrich Froebel: Known as the “father of kindergarten,” Froebel believed that young children learn best through play and should be trusted to be in charge of their own play. The adult is present to support and guide children, ensuring their safety. Froebel is known for his “gifts” to children, sets of materials for children of different ages to use and learn from in their play. These gifts, in order, are:

  1. For infants, a set of six soft balls, in the primary and secondary colors (red, yellow, blue, orange, green, purple)
  2. Toddlers received a set with a wooden sphere, cube, and cylinder.
  3. After that, a two-inch cube made of eight, 1-inch blocks, designed to be taken apart and put together again.
  4. Around five years old, children would add rectangular prisms, with the dimensions of 1/2″ by 1″ by 2″, demonstrating the concept of fractions.
  5. One 3-inch cube made of 21 one-inch cubes, 6 half-cubes, and 12 quarter-cubes.
  6. The final classic gift is a set of 18 rectangular blocks, 12 flat square blocks, and 6 narrow columns. Concepts of scale, proportion, symmetry, and balance can be discovered with this set of blocks.

Quote: “A child that plays thoroughly, with self-active determination, persevering until physical fatigue forbids, will surely be a thorough, determined man, capable of self-sacrifice for the promotion of the welfare of himself or others.”

Dr. Peter Gray: a modern psychologist who writes about the role of play in children’s lives and the way we are all wired to learn through play. He states that true play has four characteristics:

  1. Play is self-chosen and self-directed
  2. Play is intrinsically motivated’ means are more valuable than ends
  3.  Play is guided by mental rules
  4. Play is always creative and usually imaginative

Constructivism: a philosophy of education that states that people construct their own knowledge through interactions with the world around them as well as with and through other people.

Values: 

Long blocks of time for children to play uninterrupted: Children need time to get involved in their play, plan, and create scenarios. At least 30 minutes and ideally 90 minutes at a time.

Creative expression: children are encouraged to express their ideas in a variety of ways through their play as well as in varied art media.

Educators and other adults are observers and sometimes co-players, and design environments for children to play in, but do not control the play scenarios. They do, however, offer materials, scaffold interactions, and interject when a play becomes hazardous either to children’s physical or emotional wellbeing.

What You Might Observe in a Program with Emergent Curriculum:

Educators will be close to the children but not necessarily playing with them unless invited in.

Schedule is arranged with few transitions, and large blocks of time for children to play and develop their ideas.

Many art and writing materials available to encourage children’s self-expression.

Open-ended materials for play. While explicitly representative items may be present (train sets, dolls, kitchens), there will likely be many more items that don’t have a pre-assigned purpose, such as large pieces of fabric, wood blocks, or collections of natural materials such as stones and leaves.

Influence on Modern ECE Programs at Large: 

Many early childhood programs value children’s free and creative play, with a focus on open-ended materials.

NAFCC level one accreditation requires the children have the opportunity to direct their own free play for at least 30 minutes at a time, for at least one full hour in a half day of care.

The presence of unit blocks is directly from Froebel.

Questions for Your Reflection:

How do children play in your program? What are their preferred games, themes, and materials?

What is the adult’s role in play in your program?

How do your daily and weekly routines support children’s engaging in free play, both individually and in groups?

“If we are not working on getting better then we are kinda stagnant and not growing … it is better to get in on front end of a program than the tail end so when a new program comes through we try to jump right on that and get our staff excited about it to be leaders.”

“We already knew we were operating at this higher level, why not have the validation from something like Paths to QUALITY, so that it was more than just us saying we are a strong program but having Paths to QUALITY backing us up as well.”

“I live in a low income area and I have had so many times since I started that I have had interviews set up with parents and I get no reason why they don’t show up. I wonder if some of them just figured out where I’m at and they won’t come. I’ve had someone say that on the phone one time – I know where that’s at. They don’t like the area…I thought it would give me some credibility.”

“I think we would like to get some recognition and also about what we do and maybe in return parents will be calling us and saying “oh, you are this level, we appreciate what you are doing so that is why I want my child to come to you.”

“For me, I joined PTQ because parents are looking at all types of daycares and if you want to stand out, you have to do something to stand out. Participating in whatever you can,
accreditation, whatever. It gives the parents a little something more to look at than just someone watching their kids. That this is what they do, this is their profession, they want to stand out with everything and with PTQ that helps us better our programs and our children so that it is beneficial to us and our programs.”

“…I like that you do get the benefits of moving up, leveling up and you do get that bonus where you get to go through the catalog because we run on peanuts trying to dish out for nutritional foods and things. We don’t have a lot of money to spend on the kids and that little incentive is good too. So it’s nice.”

Paths to QUALITY: A Child Care Quality Rating System for Indiana. Child Care Provider Focus Group Report (purdue.edu)