Dear Prospective Parents and Interested Visitors,
Welcome to The Cottage Garden! We wanted to share with all of you a bit more about why we do this work and what it means to us.
The foundation of everything that we do in The Cottage Garden is built upon the understanding of life and human development presented in Waldorf education. We believe that there is an intrinsic dignity to each stage of human development, and we honor this dignity in the daily, rhythmical life of our program in deeply practical ways.
We run our program on the belief that there are certain experiences that are essential for the healthy development of young children: love and warmth; an environment that nourishes the senses; creative and artistic experiences; meaningful adult activity to be imitated; free, imaginative play; protection of the forces of growth in childhood; gratitude, reverence, and wonder; joy, humor and happiness; and adult caregivers pursuing a path of inner development. We'd like to give you a little picture of how we try to provide your children with these experiences at their particular stage of development.
Love and emotional warmth, rather than any particular early childhood pedagogy, create the basis for the children's healthy development. We strive to have these qualities live in our relationship to each other, in our relationships with the children, in the children's behavior toward one another and in our warm respect for each of you.
The essential task of the Waldorf early childhood teacher is to create the proper physical environment around the children. We want the children to experience the environment in our home and garden as ensouled and nurturing. We have created a space that provides the children with varied and nourishing opportunities for their self-education—experiences in touch, balance, lively and joyful movement and quiet inward listening. We also create simple, organic meals, consisting primarily of whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables so that the children, when not in your care, will continue being nourished nutritionally as well as through their senses.
In a Waldorf early childhood classroom, the art of education is the art of living. We try to be artists in how we perceive and relate to the children and to the activities of daily life. We sing and recite little verses, as you may know, but we also orchestrate and choreograph the rhythms of each day, each week and each season in such a way that the children can freely explore and create within a living structure. We recognize a deep aesthetic element living in the children's chosen activities. We see in the creation of the sweet little sand-piles, which continue to appear all over our backyard each year, how they are working with the elements and shaping them to their own satisfaction. We feel that this, at their stage of development, is more important for them than formed, teacher directed activities such as coloring or painting. Those will come later on.
We believe that real, purposeful work, adjusted to the abilities of the children, is in accordance with their inborn need for movement and is an enormously significant educational activity. We focus on the meaningful activities that nurture life in The Cottage Garden home. Cooking and baking, gardening, cleaning, creating and caring for the materials in the immediate environment, and taking care of the bodily needs of the children creates an atmosphere in which each child can be active. Over time, they become more and more interested in working with us. They sweep, help set the table, rake, stir soup and make sure that each of the sippy-cups are filled with enough water for their friends. We don't just intend for the children to copy our outer actions; we also hope that they experience something of our inner attitude toward the work we are performing—the devotion, care, sense of purpose, focus, and creative spirit. They inspire us to try to be worthy of imitation.
Little children learn through play. They approach play in an entirely individual way, out of their unique configurations of soul and spirit and out of their unique experiences of the world in which they live with their families. Based on our daily observations of the children we continually work to create an environment that supports the possibility of their healthy play.
We offer protection to the forces of growth in childhood. We want the children to remain as long as possible in the peaceful, dreamlike condition of their early childhood years. Any instruction is more implicit than explicit; we model for them rather than offer explanations, we offer them the opportunity to do something instead of asking them if they want to. We practice slow childhood at The Cottage Garden.
We try to model an atmosphere of gratitude, reverence and wonder for the children, believing that this, rather than our outer expectations for their good or polite behavior, will grow naturally in them. We hope that the capacity for love, which we believe is deeply embedded in each and every child, will grow in this natural way as a gesture from them toward the whole world.
Our wish to cultivate joy, humor and happiness in our program can't be expressed better than the surprisingly wonderful way in which Rudolf Steiner expressed it in his book, The Education of the Child; therefore, we humbly quote his words for you: “Joy of children in and with their environment must therefore be counted among the forces that build and shape the physical organs. They need teachers who look and act with happiness and, most of all, with honest, unaffected love. Such a love that streams, as it were, with warmth through the physical environment of the children may be said to literally ‘hatch out' the forms of the physical organs.”
With an educational philosophy that includes such an understanding of life as what we have just quoted, we take our own self-development and our responsibilities towards your children and you very seriously—also joyfully and with deep gratitude.
Celia Riahi & Barbara Audley