Catching them young

Seetha Anand Vaidyam

We – my students and I were seated in a circle in our cosy kindergarten classroom and eating our fruit, fruit that had been cut by all of us together. While eating our fruit, one student happened to see a few building blocks lying in one corner of the room. We had overlooked those while clearing the room after free play. The child automatically got up, put the blocks in the appropriate place and came back to resume eating fruit. No one had told him to put those blocks back in place, but he just did it on his own.

This is an incident that happened during my years as a kindergarten teacher. During those years I realized the importance of involving children in home management. Orderliness had become the norm, anything out of place just did not “feel right” and “willingly” order was restored!

During the recent lockdown, most families had to manage without domestic help. Many of us felt incapacitated, helpless and irritated while doing housework. Managing the home suddenly became complicated. Latent biases of class, gender, etc., came to the fore on one hand, while on the other, those who were comfortable managing the home enjoyed being self-reliant. I understood the value of what we did at Waldorf kindergartens.

Home science is usually taught in the higher grades and at the University. Home science or the science of managing a home is all about how it benefits all the members of the family and brings maximum well-being to everyone. Irrespective of our professions, our happiness lies in how we convert our houses into homes and make them warm and conducive to well-being.

Housekeeping may seem an easy thing to do. However even well-accomplished professionals find home management – keeping track of groceries, maintaining a clean toilet, having fresh sheets on the bed and an orderly home – a herculean task if they have not been habituated to such tasks from early in life. No doubt that complex and in-depth studies in this regard are useful in higher grades and at the University level, yet even from the early years, children need to acquire basic skills in home management.

In my years as a kindergarten teacher in a Waldorf school, I was amazed how children, just 3-year-olds, can be guided to clean, sort and organize a room. A Waldorf kindergarten room resembles a home, with a kitchen, doll house, shelves of play things, clothes and fabrics that are used during free play, crockery and cutlery. While focusing on foundation skills that prepare children for later learning, the Waldorf kindergarten curriculum engages children in common day-to-day tasks which develop their motor skills and muscle tone, bring cross-lateral movements – all of which are required for neurophysiological development and yet train them in home management.

The teacher involves children in every single activity, be it cleaning, sorting or arranging. The children may be required to place chairs in a circle. This helps children understand space management. This also gives children an ownership of the class space and a sense of belonging. It creates responsibility to manage the space and arrange it aesthetically over a period of time.

Instead of expecting a helper or an adult to clear away play things after playtime, when children are gently nudged to do the clearing up along with the adults, then it becomes a lifelong habit to “clean up one’s own mess” and to tidy up after play/work. Children below seven learn by observation and imitation. Hence it is imperative that an adult works alongside children and not merely instructs children to clear up. Children in the Waldorf kindergarten are adept in placing things in a visibly aesthetic manner following a height and/or size order.

Mending things that are broken or torn is another important aspect of home management. Discarding things at the drop of a hat is not a wise way to run a house. Fixing things teaches self reliance, resourcefulness and is economically beneficial. There is greater value for objects when time and energy are spent in mending something and reusing it. Upcycling, recycling and reusing things – all become part of life if shown to children from early years. This is surely an important aspect of home management and a service to the planet too. These ecofriendly measures can easily be practiced in the kindergarten with just a little bit of mindfulness by teachers.

A small kitchen space within the kindergarten classroom would be an ideal way to bring the required cosy and homely feel to the classroom. Moreover, food being an important part of the growing years of children, the presence of a kitchen from which fresh food and herbal teas can be served to children is useful. Children can be involved in washing and chopping fruits and vegetables, soaking grains, arranging cut fruits on a platter, helping to juice citrus fruits, washing, drying and arranging utensils in shelves, stacking crockery and cutlery in appropriate places, etc. When children are involved in kitchen activities, they also tend to appreciate and relish the food better and eat well. These tasks, besides keeping children engaged in purposeful activity, teach them sequential thinking, aid body coordination and develop focus and concentration and above all help in training children in household chores. When children are habituated from a young age in doing such work, they do not consider housework a burden but accept it as part of daily life.

Dusting, sweeping and mopping can be done once a week in the kindergarten by children. Children can also fold clothes and arrange them in colour-wise patterns. I recall how children used wooden blocks to iron clothes before folding them. When the entire class is involved in such cleaning and sorting activities it helps in building team spirit. Work is divided and so completed in quick time. Since children know the effort needed to clean, they also learn to create less mess.

Maintaining a kitchen garden in the kindergarten teaches children to home grow at least a few essential herbs and vegetables. The vegetable and other biodegradable waste generated in the school can be collected in a compost pit to produce rich manure to feed the kitchen garden. This teaches children the all-important lesson of waste management. Waste segregation is a simple solution to the hazardous problem of waste. If children have grown up doing this daily, it becomes a way of life and is not viewed as a difficult chore.

When a sequential timetable is followed daily, where the timing of the activity remains constant while the contents of the activity may vary (such as singing time, play time, story time,etc., where the songs, plays or stories may vary but the time of the activity remains the same) children develop a strong sense of time. They learn to manage time and complete tasks within the given time which is important in later life too.

In a mixed age kindergarten where all of the above mentioned were implemented with children, I found that children learnt to be independent, proactive and enjoyed carrying out household tasks. There was no gender disparity, both boys and girls did all the work equally with enthusiasm.

The author works through Ananda Foundation as a Remedial Therapist and an Early Childhood Teacher Trainer. She can be reached at [email protected].

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