Pulling together. Work with parents in the Waldorf kindergarten

Barbara Leineweber

There are two sides to everyday life in kindergarten: on the one hand we have the daily work with the children. Together with my colleagues I try to give them the space in which they can grow and develop in the best possible way. They should be able to experience and create daily, weekly and yearly rhythms with the group and jointly prepare and celebrate our festivals. In other words, everyday things. Just as much space should be given to “work with parents”. And by “work with parents” I do not just mean introducing the parents to the education of the Waldorf kindergarten. I also mean taking the time to respond to the different concerns of parents, for information, assistance in questions of upbringing, clarification and “lending support”, including in personal matters such as questions relating to the family situation, separation and divorce, dealing with the authorities, completing applications for particular support measures and suchlike.

Parents’ evenings and reading groups

At the heart of our work with parents in kindergarten lie the educational parents’ evenings in which we familiarise the parents with our education; but the willingness to engage in open dialogue is just as important. It is important for establishing a relationship with the parents of the children entrusted to our care, after all, we look at the child from different perspective but always with the intention of achieving the best possible things for any given child. Through my many years of work as a play group leader I was able to establish more intensive contact with the parents of the small children than is sometimes possible in the everyday happenings of kindergarten. My concern at the time was to offer a parents’ evening every fourteen days in which themes related to Waldorf education alternated with creative craft work.

These parents’ evenings were also open to the kindergarten parents. In the course of the three to four-year kindergarten period, the parents were to be given the opportunity to look at questions concerning their children and family life.

At the same time it was our concern to give parents craft skills so that they could make toys and craft work related to the seasons. In this way the kindergarten education could be extended into the home also in an outwardly visible way.

When some parents expressed a wish to concern themselves with Steiner’s writings, a reading group came about in which we studied “The education of the child in the light of anthroposophy” and met every fourteen days for six months, sometimes also around the kitchen table of one of the parents when no babysitter could be found.

But over time it became evident that fewer and fewer parents were coming to these parents’ evenings.

Often that was due not to a lack of interest but because there was insufficient strength and time. The modern family with its changed demands and ideals frequently consists of two earners. Mothers who stay at home and devote themselves exclusively to bringing up the children have become rare. Single-parent families with babysitters and money problems have increased, the personal needs of younger parents have changed and frequently there does not appear to be enough time and strength to “rouse” oneself again in the evening to go to the kindergarten.

A kindergarten newspaper for parents coping with everyday stress

We responded to these changes by publishing our own kindergarten newspaper. With the help of several parents who took care of printing, layout, the acquisition of advertising and suchlike, we built up a new forum with the newspaper for communicating educational themes, but also for recipes, handicraft instructions and reports from groups and bodies. It continued for a number of years and was very positively received by the parents.

Today we are again engaged in different kind of work with parents in our kindergarten. It is still the case that few mothers and fathers come to the educational parents’ evenings. We deal with that as a college of teachers by presenting the educational themes briefly to the group parents’ evenings. In this way we use the opportunity to reach as many parents as possible because the interest in the internal group parents’ evening is greater as a rule.

We meet with all the parents jointly in our entrance hall, discuss one educational subject and then go into the individual groups to discuss internal and structural things and schedules.

Parent clinics are popular

A new feature is our parent clinics to which there has been a very good response. Once very quarter we offer a meeting to parents in which there is the opportunity to look together at their child and his or her development, family or child-related questions or problems. In this way we can intensify the personal contact with the families and deal with individual wishes and subjects to a greater extent than is possible at the group parents’ evenings.

Sometimes we also invite the parents to our clinic when we want to share questions or observations with them. We hope that in future such exchange and communication will continue to remain as important for parents and teachers as hitherto and that we succeed in always adapting to and being open for the needs of future generations of parents. A good thing would be for the lower classes in school and for kindergarten to work together educationally to a greater extent in future. As the earlier school starting age is introduced and with regard to the restructuring of lower school this entails, it would make sense to “pull together” to a greater extent.

About the author: Barbara Leineweber is a graduate teacher and Waldorf child care worker in Gladbeck.