Waldorf Inspired: St. Michael’s Play Garden

MOMMY ON BOARD By Kristalle Garcia-Kekert (The Freeman) Updated August 06, 2012 12:00 AM

Based on a profound understanding of human development that nurtures the needs of a growing child, this unique form of education, the Waldorf philosophy, is now accepting students as young as 6 months old. Having opened in July 2011, together with the generosity of volunteer parents, educators and friends, the enthusiasm of this small group grew into the beautiful pre-school that you see today, the St. Michael’s Play Garden.

Founded by Maria Gracia “Grace” Cabaero-Ferreros, the idea behind the play garden is to offer to the community a haven for very young children before they start formal school. “St. Michael’s Play Garden is a place where children can freely explore and learn about the world around them in a way that respects the stage of development they are in”, Grace pointed out. “As very young children still need to master their bodies and have to run and jump as well as move around and play – it is through play that children develop the foundation for skills needed in formal school, which is an imaginative and creative mind with a sense of reverence for other people and nature, very child-centered indeed”.

Grace, a mother of one, who in 1995 was prepared to look for a school for her son Jose Antonio born in 1992 came across the Steiner Waldorf education after Horst Hellmann from Berlin, Germany came to talk about it in a seminar for public school teachers. From that moment on, Grace’s desire to work with children as well as letting her own child experience this type of education was defined. Together with the help of Nicanor Perlas and the people behind the Manila Waldorf School, it was then planned on how to start a school such as this in Cebu City. So in July 1998 (but closed in April 2001), the first Waldorf-inspired kindergarten, Cebu Children’s Garden Foundation Inc. was opened, having Grace as the main teacher.

But as Grace wanted to pursue her dream of serving the less fortunate since the school’s closure, she set up the Kidslife Foundation in August 2001. She also volunteered as a Friday play teacher in a day care center in Lahug and as a play teacher of the Cebu City Task Force for street children between 2001 and 2003. After a 10-year advocacy by training and teaching teachers, and with all the wonderful surrounding support, Grace had to showcase in the city of Cebu what a Waldorf kindergarten is. Now, the St. Michael’s Play Garden is here today!

With such a unique teaching style, the developmentally appropriate Waldorf system provides a nurturing environment for a child’s education, but in which high standards are maintained. “Instead of grades and tests, evaluations are given in personal conferences with parents”, said Grace. “The children are not directly taught how to read and write but in readiness activities for such are part of the curriculum through poems, stories, nursery rhymes, finger games and songs. These are many of the different ways to develop their abilities, but mainly play-based. This includes listening to stories, watching puppet shows and participation in dramatic play to strengthen the power of memory and imagination. Waldorf teachers work very closely with the parents, as well, to help the child to develop healthily and spiritually to their fullest potential”.

Following a certain rhythm everyday, the children first come into the classroom for a free play or art and crafts activity followed by circle songs and verses shortly before snack time. “We always make it a point to serve healthy snacks and tea to the children before they go out for an outdoor play and ensure to apply child friendly organic insect repellant before doing so. After the outdoor play, the children go back indoors to listen to the teacher’s story. For the daily artistic activities, we have a rhythm of drawing, wet-on-wet watercolour painting, crafts, cooking or baking”, Grace explained. “We also have a rhythm of weekly and monthly activities as well as celebrating a festival that all Waldorf schools, local and worldwide, celebrate. This includes a bonfire or a fieldtrip”.

Offering an extremely safe and home-like environment for children, the St. Michael’s Play Garden playrooms are carefully arranged to create a warm, cozy and peaceful environment enabling them to indulge in both solo and group activities. “Toys are made of natural materials (wooden toys), including hand-sewn dolls that are simple enough, without detail, for children to put their imagination into the toy itself, that’s what makes the Waldorf system unique. In the outdoors, we have a spacious green garden for the children to freely run around and play safely in”, Grace further pointed out.

Licensed and trained in Waldorf Early Childhood Education, all the teachers at St. Michael’s Play Garden have attended the Foundation course on anthroposophy, the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. “Aside from serving children in preschool, we also provide programs for grade and high school students through the after-school programs in music, art, crafts, practical arts and learning support. These programs integrate time for play and other creative activities to make it consistent with the Waldorf philosophy of learning with fun. Apart from that, we also offer language enhancement programs in Cebuano, English and Filipino, and we are currently applying for a license with DepEd to start a kindergarten for 5-6 year olds next year,” Grace concluded.

Available in small class sizes, this is the current St. Michael’s Play Garden Program Offerings – Happy Babies (for ages 6 to 18 months old), Parent-Toddler Group (for ages 1 ½ to 3 years old), Playgroup (for ages 3 to 4 ½ years old), Tutorials (for grade and high school students) and After School C.A.M.P.S. (crafts, arts, music, play and stories).

St. Michael’s Play Garden is located at Coast Pacific Street, St. Michael’s Village Road, Banilad. You may contact the play garden through  (032) 415-0382 or check their website, www.stmichaelsplay garden.com for more information.

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