In a Waldorf kindergarten, whether at home or at school, the children spend most of their time in free play. So many parents in our modern culture are worried about giving children this time to play, and most institutional schools no longer allow it. I think this is a mistake which represents a misguided understanding of how young children learn.
It is through creative, open-ended play that young children develop the problem-solving, relational, motor, and creative thinking skills that they will need throughout life.
Academic skills are not explicitly taught at this age, but a strong foundation is laid through the rich language and repetition of stories, music, poetry, fingerplays, and movement, through imaginative play, through time spent in nature and celebration of the seasons and through artistic and sensory experiences.
Observation and experimentation are a natural part of children’s daily play, as are counting, creating or recognizing patterns, rhyming, memorizing nursery rhymes and songs, developing control of the hand muscles (fine motor skills), establishing balance, strength and coordination of the large muscles of the body (gross motor skills), practicing the difficult art of communicating and playing with other people, and coming up with creative solutions to a diversity of problems. These daily play experiences provide a strong and natural foundation in literacy, numeracy, and creative thinking.
Children love to play because they are meant to be playing. Because that is how they learn and grow best.