Laying a Moral Foundation
The young child has an innate instinct to imitate all that is around her, particularly the adults in her world. The young child is still so open, trusting and receptive, they are often likened to sponges. They not only absorb and imitate what they see but also the inner thoughts and feelings of those around them. Therefore, it is vital that the Kindergarten teacher be a truly good, wise, kind, loving, and balanced individual, not only in their appearance but in their true inner life.
Rudolf Steiner gave many indications to the teachers he trained to practice meditation and to engage in sincere inner work. The teachers are encouraged to meditate every morning upon waking and every night before going to sleep. The suggested meditative exercises clarify our thinking, balance our feelings, strengthen our will, and guide us in objective self-reflection. True objectivity is vital to meditation because only in the absence of our subjective thoughts can the guidance of the spiritual world come purely through. The Waldorf teacher is also trained in meditative techniques where the students are individually held in meditation by the teacher in the morning and at night and time is given to receive insight about the how best to work with each of the individual children in the class. Often questions or puzzling moments of the school day will be offered up by the teacher in their evening meditations only to have the teacher wake the next morning and receive clear answers or creative indications on the subject.
Waldorf Education has many creative and adept ways of handling the disciplinary possibilities and/or requirements within a Kindergarten setting. First of all, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Our primary form of preventing difficult behavior from the children is by establishing a well-balanced "breathing" rhythm to the daily routine. Just as breathing involves an in breath and then an out breath and then another in breath we lead the children from an activity that requires them to contain their energy to an activity that allows them to release the energy they just drew in to an activity that draws them in again. For example, right after Ringtime, an activity that requires the children to stay in a circle and follow along with the teacher for up to a half-an-hour we release them into Free Play. Then, after an hour or so of free play they are ready to be guided into a quieter, more restful time - to breath back in. We follow a microcosm of this pattern within the times of the day where more concentration and stillness is asked of the students, such as in Ringtime and story time. For example, during Ringtime we will stand still and reverently say a poem or play a game where the children must be quiet for a time, and then lead them into singing a song in which they get dance,run or jump for a time and then we bring them down to the ground again with a quiet or small movement activity.
Waldorf teachers are trained to observe their students to look for signs that they are ready to transition from an in breath to an out breath or visa versa. If the children begin to lose color in their cheeks, for example, it is time to transition to an "out breath" activity. If the children are becoming overly wild and beginning to nag at one another it is time to "bring them in". It is an art form to never keep the children "in" or "out" for too long. We also have clever ideas up our sleeves for individual students who may need to be brought "in" during the middle of free play time, for example. Little activities such as grinding grain, sorting shells from the stones basket, or molding some beeswax lets the overextended child take a "time out" from the free play environment. This "time out" is in no way conveyed as a punishment. The teacher simply suggests to the child that she or he needs their help for a moment and lovingly guides them to the task. This breathing rhythm of our day works wonders - it keeps the children's energy balanced and content. When we ask them to change activities they are truly ready for the transition, it is as natural and unconscious as our readiness to breath in or out. The day, therefore, tends to move along joyfully and harmoniously without forceful, difficult demands being made of the children.
When it happens that a child does do something to harm themselves, another person or creature in the class, or any materials in the classroom our first approach to the situation is for the teacher to model the behavior we wish to see from the child ourselves. This works very well because of the child's instinct for imitation. If one child causes physical harm to another, instead of correcting the child with words and instructions we take up the child who has been hurt in our loving arms and model caring for them. We might say something like,"oh, our hands are for hugging" and then tend to the child's wound with a comforting stroke or a band aid. If a child knocks down a fort that another student has built, for example, we simply move into the situation and begin rebuilding it lovingly. The constant modeling of moral and ethically sound behavior does much more for the disciplining of a young child than any scolding ever will.
If the behavior we wish to see is modeled by the teacher and the child still continues with the hurtful or disturbing behavior the teacher will generally take the child to the big rocking chair and hold them in their laps quietly, sing them a little song or tell them a pedagogical story. The pedagogical story is a brilliant way to impart corrective information to a young child. Waldorf teachers are trained to be able to take a situation in which a child is not behaving morally and create a story that mirrors the situation but is not obviously the situation. For example, the story will contain a den of wolf pups where one pup is constantly taking and gobbling up the food of another pup. The story describes the same type of behavioral problem as the child is up to and results in the pup learning its lesson - like maybe the mama pup eventually puts it outside the den until all the other pups have finished eating and then lets the others go out and play while the other one comes in and eats alone. By making the story interesting and endearing the young child will open up to it in its feelings and receive the true moral of the story without ever having to be lectured or shamed.
If the child continues to misbehave and is not responding to either modeling, a pedagogical story, or a task to help the teacher we may then consider whether the child should go home and rest for the day and set up a conference with the parents to learn more about what might be happening outside of school and ways we might be able to remedy the situation.