SWAS Early Years' advisers, during 2014-15 looked at the following themes:
Nature tables in early years work
Greetings & Farewells
Here are the summary/papers:
- Nature Tables
A Barefoot Research Project by Deborah Cassidy
My research, undertaken during my first year as an Adviser for SWAS, looked at one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Steiner Waldorf Kindergarten environment: the nature table; also known as the seasonal garden. From a brief questionnaire and empirical evidence gathered during my visits to different Kindergartens, I explored the role of the nature table, the interaction of children and visitors with the table and the relationship that Teachers create with their table. I discovered a deep-rooted love and reverence for this special feature of our Kindergartens. I found that there was no single blueprint re-produced everywhere but a rich and diverse interpretation of the season’s gifts.
As a Kindergarten teacher it was a source of delight and soul nourishment for me to create my nature table and to observe the ways in which the children embraced it and my research has seen this reflected in the Kindergarten teachers I have met or who have filled in my brief questionnaire.
As an Adviser I always take a little time to absorb each Kindergarten’s nature table and to acknowledge both their universality and individuality. Many teachers spoke about the joy and therapeutic value of creating their table. This was both in the handwork needed to felt, knit and crochet objects to help tell the story of the season and also in the creation of the table itself: the choice of cloth colour, the arranging of figures, crystals, shells, flowers etc and the attention to the overall mood and gesture of the season they were celebrating.
Teachers also spoke about how the table was received by children. Sometimes it inspired puppet plays with the careful borrowing of figures from the table. It was also a place for them to dream into at story time. It enhanced the festivals and it inspired the children’s play. Often the children added to the table with gifts from their garden or journey to school and this helped reinforce their connection to nature, especially for city children and those travelling to Kindergarten by car.
When the teachers spoke about what qualities in the children were awakened by their table they used the following words: “awe, wonder, reverence, dreamlike, a religious quality.” A few teachers kept their table in such a way that the children knew they were not to touch. Some teachers were happy for the children to touch the table with reverence. All encouraged the children to have a respect for the table as a special place. One of the key ways in which this was enkindled was by lighting a candle on the table at key moments in the morning, such as story time.
From my observations of the tables where I have visited I have seen how the nature table feeds the children’s senses. The feel of the silk cloths as the children gently touch or are brushed as they pass by. The smell of fresh garden flowers or harvest fruits; the hush created by thick velvet Advent cloths or the glint of shells in a saucer of water. All these things nourish the senses with seasonal gifts. Sometimes I have seen children gazing in wonder at a figure or flower and ever so gently stroke a petal or pick up a flower fairy. And I have heard older children talking to each other in excited voices, about how the nature table has changed. On one visit I saw a very angry child kick the nature table, which meant the scene was in disarray. It was both shocking to see a child violate the table and the anguish this created in the other children but it was also heartening to see the children’s eagerness to restore everything with such gentle care and attention to detail.
When questioned about how the table affected visitors and parents to the Kindergarten all agreed that it was a focal point, which drew the attention. One teacher talked about how it helped new parents and visitors to begin to understand the importance of the seasons to the kindergarten but another spoke of visitors being insensitive to the specialness of the table and allowing their toddlers to pull it apart. One teacher also related the anecdote that on seeing the figure of King Winter a parent remarked, “Who’s that Gandalf figure there?”
When asked if they had a favourite season for the nature table there was no one season, which was more loved than another. There were however, particular seasonal moods, which resonated deeply for individual teachers. One spoke of the fresh new life of spring. Another spoke of the abundance and richness of autumn. This indicated how every table is a reflection of their creator and their own soul connection to the season.
Christine Fynes-Clinton describes the nature table as, “a place where the treasures of the day are gathered in an imaginative setting. A special place where they can not only be displayed but also woven together with other elements of the season’s mood: light, colour, gesture…A small reminder like this, of the development of the year, is of even more value in a city environment where one can so easily overlook all but the broadest indication of the seasons.”
It is the weaving together of all these elements, which distinguishes a nature table in a Waldorf Kindergarten. Other early years settings often have displays where nature is brought inside: they can be beautifully presented but may not to be in tune with nature on a deeper level and may even be anachronistic: for example using dry, autumn leaves in mid-summer. I have observed in Waldorf Kindergartens the careful choice of colours and textures and the ability to tell the story of what is happening below ground as well as above. Many tables use a lower level or create a cave like area to represent what is hidden below with perhaps Mother Earth and her seed babies or the gnomes with their crystals.
The position of the table is critical and, unless constrained by the physical restrictions of the room such as where rooms are packed away at the end of the session, the table is located where it can be seen easily from the moment the children enter the Kindergarten. Some tables can be a little high for the children to absorb them readily but again this is usually because of the limitations of available furniture. All Teachers strive to make the nature table a focal point, which sits happily in the fabric of the room and feels special but not detached.
In conclusion, my research found that the nature table is highly valued in Kindergarten, as a means of bringing the story of the season inside. It helps to engender joy and healing to those who create it and also to those who live with it. The beauty feeds the children’s senses and their souls and helps a room become a Waldorf Kindergarten.
Research as an adviser 2014 – 2015: Greetings and farewells, by Jill TaplinSummary:There is variety.Most have a choice between play or joining activities and this seems a good flexible arrangement. Children generally fall in with having to come to the table for an activity and play can take a while to settle after that. But play can take a while to settle anyhow.Outside starts feel nice and easy but depend on reasonable weather or good facilities. Outside greetings work well and make for easy connections.The relationship between morning KG and PM care is not resolved and PM care is still a Cinderella in many cases.SettingGreetingFarewellPM care arrangementsReflectionsSouth DevonOutside start with an individual contact and a handshakeSong and game to exit. This happens whether or not children are going to PM careTwice a week in one for the KG rooms, children from all classes together, with separate staffing.ElmfieldInformal hallo or good morning as the children arriveGoodbye song although most are going to PM care or ‘transition group’Either PM care or ‘transition group’ every day. PM care lunch happens in the small kitchen near the KG rooms and then is either outside or in a P&C room upstairs. ‘Transition group is three times a week and the children have lunch in their own kindergartens with the morning assistant and then join together for the rest of the afternoon , either outside or in one of the KG rooms and with a KG teacher plus another assistant.ElmfieldInformal hallo or good morning as the children arriveGoodbye song although most are going to PM care or ‘transition group’Children are sent’ through the door’ to parents as parents appear and groups are taken to PM care and transition group‘Home we go’?Elmfield (nursery)Informal hallo or good morning as the children arriveInformal – children taken to parents as parents arrive plus a group escorted to PM careSteiner Academy BristolChildren leaving before and after lunch and after PM care. Staff are puzzling over how to juggle teachers and assistants plus PM care staff in order to improve the experience for the children, who really want their teacher there all the time.Rowantree kindergarten, BristolPlaygroupArriving to painting or baking at the table and then to playEnding with a good bye verse after story and then called to the door as their parents arrive.None going on to PM careArrivals take place over about 30 minutes so some have finished the activity and are playing while others are just coming in.Rowantree kindergarten, BristolArrive to an activity at the table, then to playEnding with a good bye verse after story and then called to the door as their parents arrive (all quite swift). Those staying to lunch and PM care then go off to wash hands.Lunch with two KG groups together with an assistant, followed by play in a larger group with a KG teacher, plus the PM care person who is there all week. Children bring packed lunches.Not really good bye for those staying on. Would it be nicer if those staying on went out first to wash hands before all the others are in the vestibule getting ready to go with their parents?Rowantree kindergarten, BristolArrive to an activity at the table, then to playEnding with a good bye verse - ‘good bye to some of you’ - after story and then called to the door as their parents arrive (all quite swift). Those staying to lunch and PM care then go off to wash hands.Lunch with two KG groups together with an assistant, followed by play in a larger group with a KG teacher, plus the PM care person who is there all week. Children bring packed lunches.How long and how compulsory in the initial activity? Is there still enough time to play? Should this compulsion be for all the children or just the older ones? This group is a two year age range only. The 2nd day, Lily packed away the painting when most had arrived and painted, so enable a good length of play time, so one or two did not get to paint because they were late.St Paul’s Steiner School – Chestnut KGMeeting outside with parents for a song and a greeting from the teacher to each child before they enter.Children come in to an optional activity.Ending with a good bye song (good bye to all of you) and ’14 angels’. Children sent out one by one to their parents while others play a game (complicated by departing participants). Those left at the end are the PM care children – they have 15 minutes ‘quiet time’ – making a drawing while they wait for lunch timeAssistants and teachers share the afternoons and children are combined between kindergartens. A hot lunch, cooked in school, is served.They are considering including the lunchtime within the morning for allLovely beginning and greeting outside. But then a parent complained about being kept waiting outside, parents losing precious time on their way to work, children racketing about in the playground! End of the morning needs more thinking through.St Paul’s Steiner School – Rosebud KGMeeting indoors preparing for a walk. Some older children are chopping for the soup while the rest are dressed for the walk by their parents. Then all on chairs in a circle for a welcoming verse before forming the walking line.A good bye circle with no story on walk day. A nice verse and song, but not really goodbye for those that are staying. Then children are gradually called out of the circle to go with their parents until just the lunch club children remain. They draw for about 30 minutes. Elena sits and draws with them while Joanna tides up. There has already been drawing during the morning.As aboveHow can the long in-breath for the lunch club children and the left behind feeling be better managed?St Paul’s Steiner School – Mulberry KGAs aboveSt Paul’s Steiner School – Appletree KGAs aboveRobin’s Nest - EmersonMeeting outside with informal greetings and good byes to parents – into play or activitiesGoodbye songNone required this year – has been there in the pastThey really do go home at lunch time so the good bye song is fine!Steiner Academy BristolMeeting outside on outside days and inside on other days – into play or activitiesGood byes at different times for different childrenChildren leaving before and after lunch and at the end of PM care. Next year will reduce this to after lunch and at the end of PM care. PM care taken by a rota of teachers and assistants. Teachers find this very difficult – no afternoons to meet each other or parents, or do other workNot right yet but they are aware of the challenges and trying out different things. It does feel like PM care needs someone to hold it.