Man only plays where he is human in the full meaning of the word, and he is only fully human where he plays.

Fredrich Schiller

Children’s free play

At City Garden School in Columbia, Missouri, children’s play is not a meaningless occupation. It is a place of learning – a kind of children’s workplace. All the skills that are needed for life are practiced in play.

Through play, the child learns to understand the self and the world. 

In play, the child has the opportunity to learn skills and abilities and to try them out in a protected environment. The most important foundations for later life are formed in the child’s play:

  • How do I deal with myself?
  • How do I deal with other people?
  • How do I treat things I use like the earth I live on?

Exactly these three points, these questions are the big questions of our time, and in young people, they are more explosive than ever.

Free play in the Waldorf kindergarten

One of the main objectives of teachers in Waldorf kindergartens is to give the children as much time and space for free play as possible.

So that there is enough time, it is important that the rhythm desired in the Waldorf kindergarten does not become a beat. If children’s play is really recognized as one of the most important elements, then it cannot simply be interrupted at ten sharp just so that the round dance and snack can begin on time. Here, as everywhere, it is so important to always give priority to mental and spiritual vitality. That’s what “educational art” is all about!

In order to give the children the space they need for their play, the atmosphere in which the children play is crucial. In addition to the room design and the play materials provided, the mood and activities of the adults surrounding the children become vitally important.

The accompanied free play

The word “free” in “free play” does not mean that, as an educator, teachers leave the children completely to themselves for a certain period of time. Rather, it means that the children are free in their impulse to play. Rather, adults don’t work into the game, but around it. A teacher may stimulate play impulses through the principle of being a role model and imitation but leaves the children free to implement them. Should conflicts or one-sidedness arise in the game, the teacher enters into the situation and helps the children to solve their difficulties themselves.

Playing materials in the Waldorf kindergarten

The play materials in the Waldorf kindergarten should be as natural as possible. This stimulates the children’s imaginations, allows them to play in a variety of ways, and helps them to be creative.

Valuable toys in the sense of Waldorf education are characterized by:

  • Natural materials such as wood, cotton, wool, and silk from sustainable, organic forestry, agriculture, and animal husbandry.
  • Natural colors and shapes that stimulate children’s senses without overstimulating them.
  • Toys that not only fulfill a meaning or purpose but that can be used in many ways.
  • Toys appropriate to the age and developmental level of the children.
  • The opportunity to “play” everyday tasks and manual activities with available items.

Toys in the Waldorf kindergarten include wooden building blocks, wooden figures, wooden animals, cloths, ribbons, pine cones, seeds and kernels, wooden play stands, wool balls, boxes and baskets, boards, and everyday objects such as wooden spoons, pots, and more.

Read part 2 of our 5 Elements in the Waldorf Kindergarten series here.