In every 3 year old there is a 2 year old, a 1 year old and a baby waiting to be born –D.W. Winnicott
What positive impact does having a parent infant and parent toddler program have on a school? There is, of course, the hoped for impact of increased enrollment, but what else?
I have observed 4, 5 and 6 year olds peering in the windows of my classroom to catch a glimpse of the babies. Often they stare, then their gaze turns inward. Are they remembering themselves as babies? As toddlers? Perhaps, seeing the youngest ones, helps these children connect to the pre-verbal part of themselves. They are growing and moving into the world, but can take this little baby-with-mama/dada with them, inside themselves.
Often, in one of my classrooms, I have children from the nursery and kindergarten come to use the little toddler sized bathroom (of course not when I am holding class). I think they feel a sense of mastery –of how far they have come
The teachers of one of the Mixed age Kindergartens at Acorn Hill Waldorf Kindergarten & Nursery told me that it is helpful to have parent infant classes in the school. When the children begin to tease a child with “Billy is a baby” the teachers can respond “oh there are no babies in our classroom–they are all in the baby class” this seems to stop the children who shift to a more contemplative mood….”I used to be in that class–when I was a baby–I crawled around!”
Or the joy of having these little ones in the school, arriving with their mothers or fathers. Does seeing the babies remind them of the baby inside them? A memory echoing from deep within? One day a line of Kindergarten children followed their teacher through the Acorn Hill lobby on their way out to the play yard. Some parents were bringing their babies in arms through the front door to my class. The kindergartener’s usual song of “Ho ho ho, the children in a row….” spontaneously changed to “We love babies! we love toddlers!” The baby parents certainly got a warm welcome that day.
Perhaps the babies and toddlers allow even the 3 year olds to help someone younger. One of the most heartwarming examples of how the Waldorf ECE pedagogy supports empathy and the ‘healthy social life” happened last Winter at the Washington Waldorf School.
Snow and ice caused a delayed openiing for the school, but the “Moon Garden” parent infant class started at 11 am–we could meet! When I arrived early to school, I faced an ice slick stretching from the gate to the yurt, or ‘garden house’ classroom in the Children’s Garden play yard. I imagined mothers with small babies in arms –yikes! The Forest Kindergarten and the nursery class were bundled up and sliding around happily. I spoke briefly to the teachers to say I would go find some ice melt and come back to begin hacking a path from gate to the yurt.
When I returned with the facilities manager and some ice melt, what I encountered warmed me with joy and gratitude! There were 3, 4, 5 and 6 year olds (and teacher) shovels in hand hacking and cracking the ice with focus and gusto. “We’re making a path for the babies!” said one child to another who slid up to ask. I took up a shovel and joined them and together we made a welcoming, meandering path. At one point we saw that a nursery child had made a ‘path’ about 2 inches wide. “Look! I’m making a path for the babies” Her teacher smiled. “lets make one for the mothers and fathers, too” and the path was joyfully widened. The sun shining, the ice and snow sparkling, the children so joyfully working to help others–this was a picture of what we want in our schools–a healthy social life. When we care for and show respect for the youngest in our midst, we all feel that in our hearts own core….