Imagine the scene. A church hall filled with loud, single-purpose plastic toys. Children of all ages running around, ignored by their childminders who sit chatting on the benches at the side. Noise. Pushing, snatching, shouting, scolding, threats. No one welcoming you, no one leading the session or seemingly in charge, no structure whatsoever. Biscuits and neon orange squash.
This was our experience of going to a local “mainstream” playgroup, and (needless to say), we did not go twice. I found the experience overwhelming and stressful, and I suspect from her reaction that Frida felt the same way! I was so disappointed as I love the idea of a playgroup, a space where parents and children can regularly come together and share playing and snacks.
I desperately searched for other local groups we could attend together but all seemed geared at either older or younger children, or were in some way unsuitable.
Enter Bluebells, the beautiful Steiner playgroup we now attend once a week on a Friday morning.
We love it. Like, really love it.
It is so gentle and nurturing, and feels like such a positive space for both of us. There is a strong focus on allowing the children to express themselves, on seasonality (with appropriate songs, craft and decorations), and on providing an environment where children and parents alike can flourish.
Although the children are free to play with whatever they like at whatever time (the toys are all natural and open ended, such as Stockmar crayons, wooden blocks, balls, handmade dolls, felted fairies, and a toy kitchen) there is a routine which is the same every session.
Each session is structured:
- Play time and herbal tea for parents as everyone arrives
- A simple, seasonal craft for the parents such as making felt pumpkins or acorns (children can join in or play, but it’s a wonderful way to get ideas for craft at home)
- Tidy up time
- A snack for the children
- Play time where the parents are encouraged just to observe
- A simple puppet show and songs
Each “transition” between activity is marked by song – a wonderful, gentle way to encourage the children onto the next thing, without jolting them away from what they are doing. Frida loves the songs and often asks for them at home so I’m desperately trying to learn them!
A good example of the songs our teacher Jo sings can be seen in this lovely video by Sarah Baldwin. Jo even uses a harp!
Although at times the children snatch from each other or get in each other’s personal spaces, because the playgroup is limited to eight children there is a calm atmosphere. Parents are encouraged not to intervene unless there is a need, and allow children to work through disagreements if possible. Even at such a young age – the group is 0-3 but I think the youngest in our session is around 17 months – children are amazing.
We are hoping to homeschool Frida, but are considering sending her to the Steiner kindergarten part-time from three and a half if she would like to go (and if it fits into our family budget – it’s not free). There are sadly no Montessori schools in our area at all.
The playgroup takes place at the school, in one of the beautiful kindergarten classrooms, so the hope is that if she does end up attending, the transition will be made smoother as the building and journey and potentially classroom will all be familiar to her.
Do you go to a playgroup with your children? What is it like? Have you found one which suits you?
9 replies on “Why we chose a Steiner playgroup for our Montessori toddler ”
It sounds like a wonderful playgroup. Sadly I have only ever found mainstream playgroups in my area and I have very similar feelings towards the set up of these, hence we don’t attend one. Instead we go to a music class once a week which is a small group of just 6 children between 1 and 2 years.
Fortunately we do have Montessori preschools in our area and have secured a place from next September for 3 mornings a week.
Until then, we will just keep on with our own little Montessori journey at home! Perhaps I need to be a catalyst and gauge interest somehow for setting up a Montessori playgroup in my local area….
That music class sounds wonderful! Great job on getting a preschool place too. I have similar feelings about setting up a playgroup – to get to the Steiner one we have to travel 30-40 minutes! Good luck to you if you go down that route, if you do please email me and let me know how you get on! X
We have been to both Steiner and Montessori playgroups, but much much preferred the Steiner one.
I found the Montessori playgroup a bit out-of-control (routine was less clear, less structure) and didn’t like the fact that the other parents tended not to offer appropriate social guidance to their children. My daughter was the youngest in the group (17months) when we started and some of the older children got really protective of their “jobs” whenever she went near them – she wasn’t snatching, just observing them. They would literally push her away or screech at her “go away, this is my job”. I realise that the children don’t have to share, but I felt their parents should have said something like “she’s only looking” or “she’s just interested in what you’re doing” or, if she did touch what they were doing, “she’s only learning” and offer a suggestion about what they could say to ask her not to touch. Maybe that was just the personalities of the particular parents in our group?
Our Steiner playgroup sounds very similar to yours, although we don’t do craft (which I would love to do given the chance). A big highlight is that the children knead bread dough every week and it is shared at the end of the session. I like the rhythm and structure of the session. My daughter LOVES all the songs too and often sings them at home. I find that the parents at the Steiner playgroup are much more gentle and nurturing in their approach to parenting, very welcoming to us and generally much more positive to be with. When I look into Steiner’s philosophies I do find it a bit “out there”, but the school environment for early childhood is very warm and nourishing for the children, without too obvious an agenda.
I am thinking of homeschooling too… we’ll see 🙂
Thanks so much for sharing your experiences! The bread kneading sounds amazing – I think in the kindergarten they bake bread once a week. I do think there is something in the structure of the Steiner groups, teaching children gently to come together through circle time etc rather than fostering the independence which Montessori does so well. I guess so much of our week she plays independently or just with me, we both really get something out of a very structured session.
It’s such a fine line isn’t it re: parental involvement, I agree with you, I like to try and verbalise what’s happening if there is a disagreement happening! I feel like it’s gentler than leaving v young children to get on with it alone. Xx
Please set up a playgroup Eloise. You’d be fantastic at it and there’s definitely a demand out there.
We attend a parent and child group at the London Acorn School in Morden Hall Park which is fantastic. Gentle and calm. The structure sounds very similar to the Steiner groups. I love that there is a seasonal adult craft, which the children can join if they want to. I now realise how much work is involved with making bread flour!
I think the Acorn School is Steiner in all but name so it makes sense that it’s similar! I’d love to check it out but I don’t think the timings work for us – will have to look into it again xx
The playgroup sounds wonderful! We’ve been attending a Pikler playgroup on and off for a year and my daughter and I have thoroughly enjoyed it (she’s 18 months now). The focus is on allowing freedom of movement and free play. It’s been so fun to observe my daughter as she grows in that space.
We do have Montessori schools where I live. I am deeply regretting not signing my daughter up in time and am not too happy with the option we’ve got for her early next year. I’m hoping for a miracle spot to open up 😉
Ooh a Pikler group! I haven’t heard of one before in the UK – will have to look into it, I find her ideas so interesting. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a place in the Montessori school for you! Xx