Starbright has a consistent, cohesive methodology of guidance, discipline and classroom management. It combines elements from current child development philosophies, follows the basic guidelines from Waldorf education philosophy and Rudolf Steiner’s teachings on reverence for the young child and incorporates modern democratic child guidance techniques based on the writings of Rudolf Dreikers and the many positive guidance constructs that have grown out of his work.
The curriculum lies at the heart of classroom management and from the curriculum flow all other techniques of guidance. The curriculum at Starbright is based on the principles of rhythm, imitation and reverence.
At Starbright when the teachers refer to rhythm, they are not talking about music, but rather the structure of the daily activities. The activities are structured in such a way that there is an ebb and flow between group activities and open-ended imaginative play activities, both indoors and out. Waldorf education refers to this structure as a breathing in and a breathing out. The daily schedule has a balance between activities. For some activities all the children come together to do a specific task (a breathing-in activity) which is usually teacher led, such as morning circle. Those activities are counterbalanced by indoor and outdoor imaginative play, which are very open ended and child directed (breathing-out activities). For the young child this rhythm is very natural. Structuring the day to honor the natural rhythm of a young child then helps the child move through the day easily because it feels so right.
Imitation is an essential aspect of managing the curriculum. The young child imitates everything surrounding them. The teachers role model behavior and activities. The children are eager to copy and imitate those that they care about and have a relationship with. The teacher leads the child through the day without having to employ stern techniques because the child wants to follow. The teacher’s example helps the child see the path of correct action.
Reverence for the young child is at the core of Starbright’s philosophy. Each child is an unique and wonderful gift to us. Respecting this individuality is at the heart of the curriculum. The young child craves leadership and structure from their caregiver. They desire a safe foundation on which to explore their world. The teacher’s job is to provide the child with the opportunity to experience the world while also surrounding the child with a safe framework in which to do so.
The curriculum is set up to create a rhythmical daily routine in which the child participates easily and willingly and dreamily. The pacing is adjusted to that of a young child, the routine is consistent so the child knows what is coming, the transitions are smooth and seamless, and the teachers set an example of kindliness, patience, and love. Because the daily routines are consistent and because the transitions are low key, with little waiting, the child moves easily through the day. The children know what to do and want to do it. Their behavior reflects that. The children are drawn into participation naturally.
The activities themselves are important. Some of the weekly activities are music and singing, artistic and craft activities, handwork and sewing, cooking and baking, construction and building, creative dramatics, gardening and many others. The activities not only develop gross and fine motor skills, but establish a foundation on which later learning and academic experiences will build. The circle time includes singing, finger plays, rhymes, circle games, and verses. Circle time builds a broad vocabulary, teaches words that rhyme, creates a feel for the pacing of language and exercises the memory muscle. Circle time also includes storytelling in which the child’s imagination is strengthened and their ability to visualize is developed. Artistic activities provide the child with the opportunity to explore the medium as well as to develop their artistic capabilities and allows them to express their inner selves.
During imaginative play the child experiences the world using play objects as symbols of a greater universe. Thus a block can become a zoo building and a shell can become a piece of fruit for a picnic. Outdoor play combines many elements of imaginative play with nature and science exploration.
The room arrangement is also important. The classrooms have been set up so that the children have many choices among activities, so that everything is easy for the child to find, so that there are quiet spaces available, and room for group projects.
Self sufficiency is an imperative for the young child. The child is always striving to be empowered. One way in which empowerment comes is through being able to accomplish things. The teachers have created an environment in which the child helps take care of the room, and can learn to take care of themselves. This ranges from learning to pour their own water at snack time to learning to tie their shoes (the five year old Star Gardener). Everything in the room and outdoors has its place and the child know where everything goes. This enables them to feel in charge of themselves, in control.
All of the above principles provide the foundation for guidance and classroom management at Starbright. The following discipline and guidance techniques build on them.
Redirection is the basic unit of discipline. Suggesting a toy or a friend to play with, providing an available space, encouraging an activity can many times be all that is needed.
The teachers are trained to look at behavior as a message. What is the hidden meaning of the child’s action. The young child does not always know what they need or feel. They just react. Is the child tired, hungry, feeling crowded? Did their feeling get hurt? The teachers look at the child’s actions to see if there is an underlying cause to the misbehavior. Then they help find a solution.
The young child’s comprehension and desires and feelings are many times more complicated than the child can easily express. Quite often they don’t know how to express themselves adequately. The teacher guides by helping the child find words, and through coaching the child how to use those words. A young child doesn’t know that it is all right to say “I don’t want to share right now,” or “I don’t like it when you take my toy.” Many times they cry or hit due to the lack of words. The teacher leads them to another level of interaction by providing them with a repertoire of words and sentences and through coaching the child in their usage.
The Rainbows usually operate at a very basic social interaction level when they start attending Starbright. Many of them haven’t been in groups previously and are learning basic social skills. Finding words instead of using actions is an important first step. Then comes an evolution to a more complicated skill, negotiation, which is began to be learned in the Rainbow room and becomes more finely honed in the Star Garden.
Negotiation is a very important social skill. A child who can successfully negotiate with their peers is an empowered child. Empowered children are happier in their interactions. Negotiation does not mean always having things happen a specific child’s way. This is a common miscomprehension. Negotiation is about a discussion, an interaction in which each participant feels equally understood and heard and has an equal opportunity to be involved in forming the solution to the problem. Part of negotiating is becoming aware of the other person’s feelings. The teachers work with the children to learn to recognize how the other is feeling as well as helping them develop negotiating skills.
Another technique is the use of choices. This can be used in conjunction with logical and natural consequences. A child likes to chose sometimes. The trick is to define the choices as things that the teacher can live with. Not, ‘where do you want to sit’, but ‘this chair and this chair and this chair are available.’ Choices using consequences can be very effective, ‘I’ll help you with your shoes if you want. If you don’t want to put on your shoes that is okay, but you will have to stay on the deck because there is a no bare feet in the yard rule.’
Natural consequences are those that follow from an action or choice, ‘if you run on the gravel, you can fall and skin your knee.’ Logical consequences are those that are imposed by an outside agent, usually the parent or teacher and are just as valid as natural ones. ‘If you don’t have your boots on you won’t be able to walk in the puddles.’
All of the above techniques are used by the teachers to work with the child. However, sometimes the child just needs space to be angry or antisocial or alone. Sometimes the child just needs to be next to a teacher getting physical comfort. Sometimes the child needs to be given a direct order to clarify their thinking about what is being asked.
When a child acts in a way that is harmful to themselves or others, they may need to be removed from the group. Rather than considering this a punishment, we look at it as an opportunity for the child to become grounded or centered. It gives them a chance to calm down or to be comforted. It gives them the space to reevaluate. It can help remove them from the source of their discomfort.
The teachers have these expectations for the children and gently guide them through the day: To follow the daily routine (sometimes age or mood will allow for an alternate activity), to treat others courteously (with teacher guidance and role modelling), to respect classroom belongings, and to make an effort when they already have the skill such as putting on shoes
The teachers use the above approaches on a daily basis. When necessary they consult with the director and with the parents. All three, the teachers, the director and the parents are important elements in understanding the child and planning around each child’s needs.