About Barbara Patterson's Parent-Child Classes

Exerpted with permission from
Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Nurturing Our Children from Birth to Seven
by Barbara J. Patterson and Pamela Bradley
edited by Nancy Parsons

Beyond the Rainbow Bridge is an inspiring and encouraging gift to parents and teachers of young children. In it, long-time Waldorf kindergarten teacher Barbara Patterson shares her knowledge, wisdom and warmth, guiding us into the world of young children and showing us how to meet their needs with imagination and love. We are grateful to Michaelmas Press for their permission to publish this excerpt from Beyond the Rainbow Bridge.

Bob and Nancy

For the last three years I have been teaching parent-child classes at Great Oaks School, in Evanston, Illinois. These classes are .for children ages 2 1/2 to 4 years and meet for two hours once a week. The setting is similar to an early childhood, or kindergarten class, where children age 3-6 attend without their parents.

For some of the parents, this is their first experience of Waldorf education. The program provides opportunities to ask questions and learn more about the pedagogy through observing the teachers working with the rhythmic ordering of the morning and guiding the children in artistic activities such as coloring, watercolor painting, and beeswax modeling. The children also participate in the practical tasks of bread making, table setting, dish washing and cleaning up at the end of the session. Human relationships are enriched as parents, teachers and children bond while engaging in these simple activities with joy and enthusiasm.

A typical morning begins at 9:30. By 9:45, we begin our morning circle time. A little story unfolds through seasonal songs, nursery rhymes, and verses brought to life by movements that engage our bodies from head to toe. New words become accessible in the context of the poem or rhyme, and thus language skills are enhanced. Following the morning circle, there is a period of free playtime. Dolls are fed; houses are built of wooden play stands, cotton cloth and large clothespins; scenes are created on the floor using wooden or knitted animals together with pieces of irregularly shaped wood or cloth. Our rather undefined toys leave lots of room for stimulating the child's imagination.

A wooden tree house and a castle stimulate interactive play among the children. They begin to develop social skills like learning to share or having to wait for a toy someone else is playing with. This can be hard at this age, and sometimes teachers need to help. Parents then experience how teachers resolve such discipline issues.

Meanwhile the parents settle into their work-learning how to make Waldorf toys, doing simple crafts, and preparing the morning snack, all in sight of their children. Soft conversation among the parents creates a happy mood in the room. We know that young children learn primarily through imitation, so they are absorbing this mood in the room as well as the gestures and concentration of the adults on their tasks. This inspires the children for their work which we call play.

One of the artistic or practical tasks mentioned earlier may also take place during playtime. Some children want to help while other children may continue playing. At 10:30 parents put their handwork away, and prepare a lovely snack table. Everybody washes hands, and we all sit down at the table. We acknowledge the Earth and Sun with gratitude for our food, and all hold hands as we say, "Blessings on our snack." After snack, some children return to their play while others help my assistant wash up the snack dishes. This allows time for a fifteen to twenty minute discussion on a chosen theme between the parents and myself. The theme arises out of a book we are slowly working through, a handout I may have passed out the previous week, or a question someone may have. Then we sing our clean up song and all help put the toys away. We close the morning with a puppet show and good-bye verse and song.

We have at least one parent evening without children per ten week session where we have the luxury of uninterrupted conversation.

Parents say that the program enriches their family life. They get ideas about celebrating festivals at home and gain skills in ways to include their children in their day to day tasks of living. New friendships are formed which often last for years. Parents feel respected and supported in their important task. Through receiving the weekly school newsletter and being invited to participate in whole school festivals and fund raising events, the first links to the greater school community begin to be built.