Our Waldorf-inspired curriculum
Our Waldorf-inspired preschool and kindergarten experience provides children with a sense of warmth, wonder and the magic of childhood in order to create a foundation of rich childhood memories and a sense of the goodness of life. We offer a play-based curriculum which integrates traditional Khmer festivals, stories, culture, songs, dances, and games along with many other international classics. The curriculum encourages children to experience the world with their senses. They develop their bodies, their social and language skills, and their imaginations through physical and creative play, handwork, cooking, rhyme, games and movement, singing, and storytelling. This approach provides the experiential foundation for understanding complex academic concepts later in their school life. Through attentive observation, facilitation and their calm loving presence in the classroom, our teachers create an active, healthy environment where each child can thrive and be children. The key tenets of Gecko Garden School’s curriculum are:
- Play. The work of childhood is play, and free, imaginative play is the strongest foundation to take children into the academic years of primary school. Play at Gecko Garden School makes use of the natural environment and natural, open-ended toys to encourage the children’s imagination and collaboration. Our teachers adapt the practical activities of daily life, including baking, cleaning, gardening, and handcrafts so that children can incorporate them into their play. As well as playing, the children experience artistic activities such as painting, drawing, modelling, sewing, singing, dancing, and storytelling through puppetry. Ample time is provided during the day for the children to play in the outdoor environment and classrooms.
- Imitation. Children from birth until seven years old are naturally imitative beings who observe and imitate all models set before them. As such, the primary method of instruction at Gecko Garden School is through imitation. We provide the children with kind, natural, curious, artistic, useful, and joyful models of behavior and environment. Imitating these characteristics from a formative age enables the children to weave them into the fabric of their beings and their lives.
- Sense of home. Our school space is thoughtfully designed and continuously evolving to give children a sense of warmth, beauty, home and family. The materials used are beautiful, soft, and natural. Great attention is paid to the detail of all things placed within the classroom. This sense of beauty and attention to detail are then imitated in the children’s play. The classes are arranged in mixed age groupings, modeling the relationship of older and younger siblings where the older children learn to care for the younger, and younger children imitate the older ones. The daily rhythm supports the children’s participation in activities at a slow, consistent pace that is reassuring and confidence building.
- Rhythm. The school days are structured to provide a gentle rhythm of daily, weekly, and seasonal activities. This brings the children a sense of security, self-confidence and empowerment as they always know and can anticipate what will happen next. This healthy rhythm helps establish the foundation for self-care, and provides gentle boundaries for the children that help prevent disciplinary incidents.
- Sense of wonder, magic, and gratitude. Childhood is a magical time that should be protected and preserved for as long as possible. The teachers make every effort to provide a loving environment with a pervading sense of their own joy and conviction that the world is good, and beautiful, and a special thing of which to be a part. This is achieved through the daily rhythm of songs, poems, stories, and most notably the deep intention put into every action and reaction of the teachers.
- Sense of place and tradition. A sense of place, culture and tradition are essential to happy communities. The school embraces Khmer culture to create a strong sense of celebration of the school community’s place in Cambodia. International families also contribute their stories, celebrations and customs, creating a community which is culturally aware, and celebrates the many ways in which we are the same despite apparent differences.
- Imagination. Helping children develop a rich imagination is arguably the most critical work of early childhood. Children who are able to bring this imagination with them to their future years in school and eventually their careers will offer a valuable skill that is increasingly de-emphasized and lacking in our media-rich and academically standardized world. The children’s imagination is cultivated by creating an environment free of media and other influencing factors, and encouraging children to follow their interests using open-ended materials and toys. Whether they pursue careers in healthcare, teaching, business, law, parenting, astrophysics, politics, or anything else, having an ability to innovate and imagine possibilities not yet seen by others will always be an essential skill.
- Environmental appreciation and conservation. We believe that the children’s and our families’ healthy relationship to and appreciation of the natural world is essential to our planet’s and global society’s future. The school strives to be plastic-free, and use only natural materials. Instead of relying on recycling and reuse of materials that are dangerous to the environment, our school teaches children how to use alternative natural materials and live without plastics and dangerous materials from a young age, helping establish the foundation for responsible adults who make creative use of natural resources to solve problems in ways that are healthy for themselves and the planet.
- Healthy Eating. The importance of food in nourishing and sustaining both human life and a sense of community can not be overstated. Gecko Garden School’s curriculum includes a full, healthy snack, which the children help to prepare, and lunch for the full day program, as a non-optional part of the program offering. This is both to encourage healthy eating, and to instill in children the sense of care and community that goes into the preparation and partaking together of a meal.
Gecko Garden School prepares children to attend any school in the world
Gecko Garden School is an international school, with families who routinely come from and return to school systems with a variety of pedagogical approaches around the world. Children who attend our school are fully prepared to transition to any school system.
The World Economic Forum and other international organizations have identified a number of key “21st century skills” as essential to today’s children’s success in their future academic programs, careers and lives. Schools around the world are adjusting their approaches to ensure that in addition to academics, students have explicit training in these skills. The ways in which Gecko Garden School’s curriculum provides children with a sound foundation in these skills, and thereby amply prepares them to attend any primary school program in the world, is:
|21st Century Skill||Gecko Garden School Curriculum Approach|
|Literacy||Pre-literacy skills are developed through storytelling and circle time stories, which use rich vocabulary and imagery, and are rooted not in popular culture but in long tradition. This establishes a fundamental love for and curiosity about literature and stories. Additionally, the school’s library is full of books which have been selected for their beauty and cultural diversity. This experience cultivating the love and curiosity for stories and literature strongly supports the academics of learning to read when the child enters primary school.|
|Numeracy||The children are introduced to the idea of numbers and math concepts, from counting items as they are painted, to folding cloth in different shapes, to using liquid and solid measures in cooking projects. This experience of mathematical concepts within practical day-to-day activities supports the academic learning of numbers and math in primary school and beyond.|
|Scientific literacy||The children experience the physical realities of the world through their play. For example, creating a tall stack of blocks may mean that it comes tumbling down. Children are invited to self-direct their explorations – perhaps stacking the blocks in a pyramid will have a different effect? Or a square? Using sticks to build a house may require stacking wood or other objects at a certain angle for it to stand upright. They are also given time for outdoor play and a chance to explore the natural world. Experiencing these realities supports the later academic work of naming and describing the scientific principles at work.|
|Cultural and civic literacy||Through our international school community and body of teachers, the children have unique and nearly unparalleled exposure to a variety of cultures, traditions and languages. Khmer and international festivals representing the traditions of our diverse student body are celebrated. This experience provides a foundation of global awareness and cross cultural skills that will serve the children as they embark on more academic studies later in school.|
|Financial literacy||As part of imitating the world around them, children replicate everyday situations in their play, such as setting up shops or restaurants. Children are encouraged to use their imaginations and should their play include money, they use buttons or shells or other materials as currency, and transact as they see fit.|
|Information communication technology literacy||Our school does not encourage the use of information communication technology between the ages of birth and seven years old. Although an important skill, Gecko Garden School feels it is critical to build a solid foundation in imagination, creativity, social, and communication skills at this age. All forms of information technology are recommended to be introduced later in the child’s life. As such, there is no information technology used with the children at our school.|
|Critical thinking||The children are invited to observe and interact with the world around them in nature, their classrooms, and their peers; finding their own questions and challenges to be solved through their play. Teachers observe them and create the space for them to solve their problems themselves, or in collaboration with their peers whenever possible. This experience helps children build self-sufficiency, self-confidence and problem solving skills which will serve them their whole lives.|
|Creativity||The children are invited to experience creativity in a variety of different ways. During indoor and outdoor play, the children are invited to use their imagination and open-ended objects and materials to create the toys and props required by their play and stories. Additionally, the children are introduced to watercolor painting, beeswax modelling, and a variety of artistic pursuits. Their learning includes fine and gross motor skills requiring hand eye coordination, e.g. scissors, needles, and crayons, which will be relevant in creative pursuits and in learning to write.|
|Communication||As children under the age of seven learn best through imitation, the school strives to provide examples of excellent communication for the children to imitate. Communication within the school community is modelled by the teachers, administrators, parents, and other students. We seek to use positive and constructive communication techniques at all times when communicating on the school grounds. This helps the children develop a strong foundation of social and emotional intelligence, including being able to socialize confidently, and adapt their behavior appropriately to different occasions.|
|Collaboration||The children work independently and cooperatively within large and small groups to play, prepare their daily snack, and prepare their space for different activities throughout the morning. They develop a sense of community and of collaborating to meet the community’s needs, which is a critical foundation for nearly all academic, professional, and social activities they will undertake in their lives.|
|Curiosity||The children learn through imitation in the early years. Small children are inherently curious about the world around them and especially the adults in their environment. Our teachers provide the children with a wide variety of interesting, creative and useful tasks to imitate and participate in. Teachers also seek to create the space for children to explore what they are curious about. This sense of curiosity and discovery through the act of doing builds the foundations for strong curiosity throughout the child’s future studies and life.|
|Initiative||The children’s day is built around a gentle, healthy rhythm that allows them to feel confident that they know what is coming next, and to initiate the next activities. They are taught how to do a variety of tasks which supports them in being confident to take initiative the next time. Children are given the space and freedom to choose their play.|
|Persistence/grit||The playground, classrooms and classroom activities are carefully and thoughtfully designed to provide the children with some areas of easy success to give them a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence, and some areas providing greater challenge, encouraging them to stretch themselves intellectually and physically to meet the challenge. This helps the children build self-confidence, take reasonable risks, persevere, and feel willing to try new things. Teachers thoughtfully observe and support students’ development by inviting them to join in activities.|
|Adaptability||The children learn through occasional changes in their rhythm or class due to holidays, other special events, new students, or the changes in their experience associated with their own developmental growth, to adjust their expectations to meet the new or temporary need of the community, and then re-establish their rhythm in a healthy, adjusted way. Additionally, the teachers do a number of physical activities with the children to help them develop both sides of their brain equally, including midline-crossing exercises and art activities, which promote flexibility and adaptability in thought as the child develops.|
|Leadership||The children are situated in mixed-age classes, which allow opportunities for the older children to care for the younger ones. This provides children with a sense of responsibility for caring for those in their community who cannot yet do for themselves. Older children are given opportunities to lead story time and puppet shows and other activities according to their interests, providing them with the self-confidence and self-view as leaders in appropriate situations.|
|Social and cultural awareness||Instead of changing classes and teachers each year, children work together in their established class groupings for multiple years with the same teachers. This arrangement enables the students to develop deep relationships with their peers and their teachers, truly understanding the depth of social interaction required to heal rifts, overcome obstacles, and move on with joy and collaboration. Because of the diverse cultures represented by our families from Cambodia and around the world, a great deal of cultural awareness is brought through exposure to the children’s languages, customs, and families.|
|All underscored by…|
|Lifelong learning||Waldorf education is famous for providing children with the foundation for a love of lifelong learning. This is achieved in a vast variety of ways, from the love and personal relationships established with the teachers; to the creative, artistic and beautiful presentation of the curriculum; to the joy and curiosity brought by the teachers, the families and the children themselves. Every activity is designed and conveyed in a manner to help the children feel a strong sense that the world is a good and magical place, which is worth knowing about, participating in, and protecting to the extent they possibly can throughout their life.|
Pre-literacy at Gecko Garden School
Gecko Garden School’s approach to literacy is age-appropriate and thoughtfully designed to support children as their language and comprehension develops and evolves. The ability to read, and comprehend what is read, is a process that is rushed by many schools. The Waldorf approach, and Gecko Garden’s approach, mirrors the overall development of human language. That is, at first when babies are born they are capable of sounds only, and listening. Over time they develop a vocabulary of gesture, followed by an ever-growing vocabulary of words. As they begin to play, their experience of the world helps them begin to grasp concepts (e.g., what it is to carry a pail up a hill to fetch a pail of water) and symbolism (a block could stand in for a piece of food; by extension a written symbol could represent a sound). Exposure to rich, diverse vocabulary in stories, songs, rhymes, and games prepares the children for later sight-reading. Clear articulation of words introduces children to the sounds within each word, supporting competent spelling.
As vocabulary develops, a sense of oral tradition emerges. This is both a connection to the content of a story, imagination of what the content is describing, and retaining the human connection of a human as the source of the story. Then pictograms emerge, both in human tradition and in child development, as the earliest written form of recording a cherished story for posterity and retelling. Once vocabulary, individual sound recognition, and storytelling orally and through pictures exist, it is possible to assign a written symbol to a sound, then arrange multiple symbols in a row to represent the sounds in a word, and then finally to read the word back.
Gecko Garden School’s curriculum supports this process through:
- Storytelling, supporting the development of imagination, connection to the human source of the story, vocabulary, identification of sounds, modelling of concepts, sense of the beginning/middle/end of a story
- Play, supporting the experience of concepts, and use of language to navigate social situations and create plays and stories
- Rich vocabulary imparted in songs, rhymes, stories, supporting eventual writing, word recognition and sight reading
- Clear diction, supporting sound recognition and eventual spelling skills
- Drawing and watercolor painting, supporting imagination, storytelling through pictures, and fine motor skills for writing
- Storybooks, supporting recognition of writing and letters
Research and evidence suggest that when these components are in place and built upon in a careful, strategic way, a child will likely learn to write and then read very quickly when the ideas are introduced. Alternatively, approaches that introduce writing much earlier, concurrently with the development of concepts, often find that although children can write symbols representing words, their comprehension may be lagging. Although some children are developmentally ready to write and read quite early, many are not. Introducing writing and reading before they have a firm pre-literacy foundation puts the child at risk of frustration, loss of joy and related loss of interest in reading. A good article to read for more information is “Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose.”