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Bowls, chopsticks and bamboo train

Created by Li Zhang | |   BLOG Distance Learning
Here is an insight into everyday life in the Waldorf kindergarten in Chengdu/China during COVID-19. We go to the kindergarten with bowls and chopsticks and leave again with the Bamboo Train. Li Zhang, kindergarten teacher and member of the Waldorf Kindergarten Association, reports on her experiences.

Autumn is coming, due to the painful experience caused by the pandemic in the early months of the year, the Chinese government has taken fast and strict measures to effectively control the outbreak, and our daily lives and work have gradually gone back to normal. Although people have to wear masks on public transportation and in some public places,  most people  feel relaxed, safe and grateful to the people who have made efforts to  fight the epidemic.

Since June, the children were gradually coming back to kindergarten, and we had a month-length summer vacation in August. When the children returned to school or kindergarten again  in September, it seemed as if everything had returned to normal, but some things had changed.

Bowl and chopsticks or spoon in the Children's Schoolbags

In the morning, from 8:15 to 8:45 , the children come to the kindergarten one after another. Their school bags hold their own Bowl and chopsticks or spoon, towels, and changing clothes, and perhaps some stones, fruit pits or a ball of wool, this is a typical Waldorf kindergarten children ’s schoolbag. There are absolutely no books or homework which other kindergarten children must take with them. In China, almost all other kindergartens teach children literacy and numeration, and many children only have exercise books and textbooks in their schoolbags.

In recent years, the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China (MOE of China) has repeatedly emphasized that it’s firmly prohibited teaching any primary school contents in kindergartens, and the excessive use of electronic products in kindergartens is disapproved. I think these policies are very humane, healthy and correct. However, due to the long-term and powerful influence of China's "College Entrance Examination", the anxiety and fear of "we can't lose at the starting line" has shrouded the whole society, making it impossible for parents and kindergartens to ignore intellectual learning. Therefore, very few kindergartens can actually not teach their children to read, write, calculate or use electronic products completely. Whereas, Chengdu Waldorf Kindergarten has adhered to the philosophy of Waldorf early education and advocated a large number of activities, such as free and creative play, work in life, nature and artistic activities which have been welcomed by many parents, and Chengdu Waldorf School became one of the most difficult kindergartens to enter in this city. The approach of Waldorf early childhood education also has a great influence in the field of early childhood education in China. Therefore, Chengdu Waldorf School receives many teachers, education experts or students every year. In September 2002, a group experts of MOE of China visited Chengdu Waldorf kindergarten, they were surprised to see this kindergarten was in the garden, the children were playing freely, living and working in the environment like home, experiencing natural and artistic environment, and the school was highly praised.     

In China, every kindergarten offers hot snacks, lunch, and even dinner for the children. Children do not need to bring any food or utensils from home. And all the utensils are cleaned and disinfected by the staff of the kindergarten, so the children do not have to wash any utensils. At Chengdu Waldorf Kindergarten, since many years ago,  children have to bring their own rice Bowl and chopsticks or spoon, towels every day. After each use, children can wash and dry it ,   take it home and clean once more at home, and bring it back next day. On the one hand, it reduces the infection caused by the cross use of utensils. On the other hand, it cultivates the ability of self-care of children. Now , the epidemic has not completely disappeared, children bringing their own utensils and towels to the kindergarten has become a good way which a protection for the children. It makes parents feel rest assured and appreciated.  Some other  kindergartens have learnt from us.

During the Epidemic Period, Parents Cannot Enter the Campus, What Can We Do?

Because of the epidemic, the government has strictly prohibited all parents from entering the school now! This is a big change for Chengdu Waldorf School.

Before the epidemic,  every morning , you could see many parents were very busy  on campus.  Some parents were playing basketball or badminton, jumping rope with children on the playground; Some parents were doing garbage recycling with children; Some parents were planting and watering in the gardens; Some parents were practicing Tai Chi on the lawn; Some parents were playing flute; Some parents were taking younger children to play in the bamboo forest. The kindergarten children could walk through the bamboo forest, walk around  the pond, enter into the kindergarten playground and the classroom in the company of their parents. The scene was very warm-hearted, relaxing and free.

After children entering the classroom, some parents would go to the meeting to prepare for the festival celebration activities, some parents would go to the traditional Chinese painting study group, choir, flute group, handiwork group, dragon and lion dance training group and other groups, it was a scene full of life and excitement.

Such parents-school relationship is very rare in China, because parents are barred from almost all other schools and kindergartens. As a typical Waldorf school, the community culture and atmosphere of Chengdu Waldorf School are very strong and harmonious. Parents actively participate in  many school activities, the adults are interested in self-growth, and work together to provide a healthy environment for children to grow up. We are very proud of this parents-school relationship, and it is the light of Waldorf spirit that brings us together.

Now, because of the epidemic, parents cannot enter the campus, the children are saying goodbye to their parents at the gate. Every morning, the pupils can leave their parents without any difficulty. But some kindergarten children are feeling a bit sad,, the teacher will wait for them, hold them, comfort them patiently.

Now, we don’t have to wear masks but need to keep social distance, in order to let the children adapt to such changes soon, the teachers came up with a good idea: a bamboo pole can be a small train, after the children are saying goodbye to their parents, they board a bamboo train, holding a string on the bamboo pole, keeping one meter distance. Each small train can have seven or eight passengers, everyone are singing "small train, small train, boom, boom, boom, carrying us through valleys, carrying us through fields, carrying us through rivers..." Walking through the garden and the bamboo forest, the children come to their classrooms or outdoor playground.

When the day is over, the bamboo train carries the children from the kindergarten classroom to the school gate, the children are given to the parents waiting at the gate. They like the little train very much, feel very relaxed and at ease, and the older children like to be the train driver and take the little train to the gate. Thanks to the kindergarten teacher for using the power of imagination to create fun ways to help children transit from their parents to kindergarten.

Children, parents, and teachers need to be more creative, patient, and determined in the face of this important change, and it is amazing how resilient the children are, and how quickly they adapt to this process.

In the early of this year when epidemic was really bad.  in order to support parents taking care of children at home ,   our kindergarten teachers had been meeting parents online very often,  gave lectures, consulting, encouraging parents to keep the rhythm at home, teaching parents to tell stories, handwork, games and other activities.  These helped parents very  much during that  almost four -month isolated life at home. In the summer, when the children returned to kindergarten, we found that most children  were in a good state,  they were quite relax  and happy, without too much anxiety and any symptoms of trauma.

No matter what form it takes, as long as it is good for the healthy growth of children, I believe parents and teachers will work together, even if parents are temporarily unable to enter the campus.

More free play and work  in the Nature or farm.

For most schools and kindergartens in China, children are not allowed to go outside of campus because of management rules and safety reasons.  Chengdu Waldorf School is fortunate to have a 10-hectare campus with bamboo forests, ponds, large lawns, a farm and a large playground. At least three or four  mornings a week, the kindergarten children can walk around the campus,  play in the bamboo forest and around the pond.

This year, from late January to May, children were  almost at home with their parents every day, and outdoor activities and reduced a lot. The epidemic brings a lot of threats and stress, and also stimulates people to pay attention to health and life.

As the Traditional Chinese Medicine says: if you want the children grow well, they must touch earth more! Bath in the sun more! So, When the children returned to kindergarten, the teachers decided to provide more outdoor play and natural activities for them, so they could breathe more and play on their own.  The teachers are also encouraging parents to take their children to hike or climb mountains to boost their immunity on the other hand.  All these changes are the best gifts for their children's healthy  in the future.

In last June, after the outbreak of the epidemic,  many parents were reluctant to send their children back to the kindergarten because of fear. However, the ratio of returning children in Waldorf Kindergarten is very high. There were 160 children in our kindergarten and 155 children all returned, only five children did not come back because they were away from home.  All these because the parents knew that  Waldorf  teachers care about children's health very much and they will do  their best to take care of children.

Moon festival , we ray for health and peace together.

October 1st was Chinese National Day, it was also the Moon Festival (Mid-Autumn Festival) for this year. The legend is a long time ago, when the moon was at its fullest in autumn, the beautiful Chang 'e stole the elixir of immortality and left her heroic husband Hou Yi to fly to the moon palace; There is a white rabbit in the moon Palace. Wu Gang, a man, is cutting down a osmanthus tree. On the evening of the Moon Festival, looking at the bright moon, people eat moon cakes and osmanthus cakes, tell stories, riddles, worship the moon, pray the whole family reunion can be as round as the moon.

It is a typical autumn festival. In previous years, the teachers would invite parents to kindergartens to have festival celebration together.  But this year, parents were not allowed in the school, and the children were spending the festival in the kindergarten with their teachers. They made moon cakes, sang songs about the moon, make lanterns, watched puppet play "Chang 'e flies to the moon", offered sacrifices and prayed. They  prayed that we could be together as the round moon! Teachers and children also sincerely gave thanks to the doctors and those hard-working people, and prayed for all of us, for people going through this epidemic, and every family can be together forever, happily and healthily.     

The epidemic is not over yet, but the children are growing, their lives, their work and their play are going on! Teachers and parents have been working hard to create a rhythmic and warm environment for children, so that they can grow up healthily, and we hope that feeling gratitude and awe can endow them strength to grow.

Li Zhang, Waldorf kindergarten teacher in China

First published in: Erziehungskunst frühe Kindheit


Li Zhang was introduced to Waldorf Education in 1994  and completed her kindergarten teacher's  training at the Sunridge college in Spring Valley NY. In 2004, she with  her husband Harry and other friends had founded  first Chinese Waldorf School and kindergarten in Mainland China. Currently, she is the chairperson of teachers college of Chengdu Waldorf School Li  Zhang is also the chairperson of China Waldorf Early Childhood Education Forum (CECEF), and with friends of CECEF working group, they are  responsible for the works of Waldorf  early childhood education nationwide.

pictures: Waldorfkindergarten Chengdu