Allowing Children to learn through playing

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I never expected to have so much fun teaching children. They have an endless energy for everything. With my little experience teaching English I have realized that children learn by playing because in this way they don't care too much about complicated grammar structures so their confidence and competence in language considerably increases. I say confidence because when children play they leave behind the fear of making mistakes giving them the opportunity to learn more. I really enjoy seeing children running, laughing, having fun and I realized that movement and rhythm is an important feature not only for children but also for adults because when I include activities that involve playing I want to be part of the game. Children are more receptive and more awake when they are moved back and forth with outdoor and indoor activities and they don't get bored easily.

Waldorf Education based on Rudolf Steiner´s educational prospects proposes the wonderful idea of rhythm in teaching that has encouraged me to be now in front of a class of children. At the beginning this was not easy because I had never had very dynamic English classes, basically they were based on grammatical explanations and little interaction. I was not used to playing but with the passing of time I have learned how important the use of our body and our sense are in the process of learning. For example, in my classes children learn basic English verbs by looking at pictures but when they mime the verbs they know exactly what the verbs mean and this experience is saved forever. The same thing happens when children are involved in artistic activities. In Waldorf Schools, children learn with practical and artistic tasks like drawing and painting that help them to gather a large vocabulary. As a teacher, not only do I teach English but also I teach handcrafts and sometimes painting because I share the belief of experiencing language, unfortunately in the school where I work, scarcely do I have the opportunity to devote time to these kinds of activities.

"According to Rudolf Steiner, the human body has three principal systems, each controlling one type of activity. The nerve-sense system comprised of the brain, sense organs and the central nervous system. The metabolic-limb system, consisting of the digestive, eliminative, and sexual organs as well as the limbs, is the seat of the will and of action; it is a polar balance to the nerve-sense system. The rhythmic system, including the heart and lungs, is related to the life of feeling functions according to specific rhythmic patterns and harmonizes and balances the other two systems. He proposes a curriculum that helps children to develop these areas in a healthy and balanced way by including indoor and outdoor activities that harmonize children's learning process".

The ideas of Steiner have inspired the creation of more than 800 schools all over the world, 15 of them in Mexico. These schools have promoted Steiner´s educational philosophy by raising healthy children. Steiner's idea of leading children by the alternation of periods of concentration and release, the idea of two-to-three day main lessons, the involvement of many activities to experience language and eurhythmy lead to the creation of beautiful human beings capable of seeing life in a different way and being concerned about the environment and society. This philosophy has had great success; unfortunately these schools don't offer education to adults leaving behind in my opinion the great advantages that these ideas might provide to adult education especially in second language learning.

But how can this educational approach be applied in adult second language learning? What I will explain in this essay is how Rudolph Steiner's philosophy might provide benefits to adults in order to obtain competence and self-confidence in a second language.

It has been said that children can achieve high competence in second language because of their early contact, experience with language and as a result they are more efficient and successful learners. However adults and teenagers can also be as successful as children given suitable learning conditions. What I mean by conditions is that adults can learn in a proper atmosphere that make them be motivated and encourage to learn the language. Rudolf Steiner's approach provides some of these conditions to children for a natural development especially in the field of language; we can say that some ideas of Waldorf School's curriculum could be applied in adult English teaching.

It is impossible not to question the effectiveness of Waldorf schools as applied to adults because of the conception of adult education as a formal matter. Apart from tly, there is the issue that adults need to be made aware of the reason why they have to learn certain material has stated that it is important that students are informed of the benefits of covering this material and how it will benefit them when the course is finished. It is imperative that students are furnished with the learning objectives when they start their course (Knowles et al 1998, p. 63). The second area is the learner's concept of himself or herself. If the learner is very self confident and what Maslow describes as having high self-esteem needs, then the lecturer has to ensure that they allow the student to discuss or present their views during the class session. If the lecturer starts out using a pedagogical method of teaching and encourages the student to become dependent on them for knowledge and then they are in essence creating a dependent student who will have low self-esteem, which will ensure that the student never questions what the lecturer says in class. Thirdly, andragogy is based on is the experience of the learner and the role that it plays in the classroom. Andragogy assumes that the student has a bank of experience accumulated over their lifetime and that they would like to apply this 'experience' in the classroom so that they can understand the material that is being discussed in the session. Unlike pedagogy, andragogical learners resent having a lecturer's ideas forced upon them and as stated by Knowles, et al. (1998, p. 65), 'adults resent and resist situations in which they feel others are imposing their will on them.' Therefore, they want to be responsible for their own learning. The andragogical model states that adults need to be able to use their experience in the classroom if they want to learn. Fourthly, students want to learn. Motivation plays an important part in adult learning, firstly, in that if students are not motivated to learn they may not participate in the classroom and therefore may leave the course. Secondly, mentioned in the previous point, adult students may be more motivated to learn if the concept of groups were prompted by the lecturer. Maslow stated in his theory of motivation that people have a need to feel that they belong. Students are more motivated if they feel that they belong in the adult classroom and for most adult students they like to belong to a group that they can discuss both academic and personal issues. Andragogy states that adults are motivated by both internal and external factors. Lecturers have to recognise that by praising and building on the self-esteem of students as it motivates them to learn. Tough found that 'motivation is frequently blocked by barriers such as negative self concept and time constraints' (cited in Knowles, 1994, p. 68). While adult learners may respond to external motivators such as bonuses from their employers when they attain a certain grade, it is the internal priorities that are more important to the learner. Fifthly, for andragogy to work effectively in the classroom the lecturer must promote a climate which provides a safe environment for the student. Abraham Maslow stated that students, especially those with low self-esteem, need to have a safe environment if they are participate in the learning experience (Knowles, 1994, p. 14). In the instance where students are encouraged to discuss examples, they are praised for their contribution and not mocked by either the lecturer or other students for their views on a particular issue. Students could be further motivated in the classroom if they are allowed to participate in the planning of the syllabi for the course.

Adult English learning for example is most of the times focused on complex grammar structures and the interpretation of recordings out of context. "Many adult English language learners place a high value on learning grammar because they think this will provide effective communication; they associate excellent grammar with opportunities for employment and promotion, the attainment of educational goals, and social acceptance by native speakers." However, an intensive grammar class will not always provide students with the competence to attain these goals. Most of the time the classes could turn boring and because of deep grammar explanations, the communicative student's skills could be slowed down. The communicative skills in students are reflected when there is not much practice in the class that can be complemented with activities that involve movement.

Play and movement in Waldorf's schools provide students self-confidence, classmate interaction and a sense of self-worth. Children are never taught with the idea of competence; they are respected as individuals and unique beings. That's why children learn how to write at the age of 7 and not at 5 or 6 like in other schools because is in this age when children have accumulate enough experience with language and are now ready to use symbols. Some people could think that learning how to write at the age of 7 is too late and could see the method as a waste of time. What they don't know is that reading is developmental skill and has to be joined with the natural development of the child. "There is no evidence that over earlier instruction in decodind helps children to become better readers. This type of instruction may consign children to a narrow, limited view of reading that is aantithetical to their long-term success not only in school, but thoroughout their life times. In other words…such instruction might indetermine rather than promote, literacy learnin". In waldorf schools it exists the respect of students' times to learn, what not the same in other schools is. Teachers are really concerned about student's education so many children find their way into Waldorf Schools after having being labeled unsuccessful children by other schools. Children are never overscheduled as other children in other schools and they end up so tired and they have little sleep. Rudolf Steiner considers that a good rhythm of activity and sleep helps to learning. However, many people could think that a child could learn more if he/she is involve in many activities during the day, so they began an adult life at very early age. A result of these overscheduling is a very poor school performance.

In language teaching, adults can be labeled as defective learners because it is said they don't have the same developed skills as children have and they are more conscious about what they are learning. In fact, some adult students can feel frustrated when they see how a child develops strong language skills. Not only do children learn English because of their early contact with language but because they don't have any worries or pressures to learn the language. In the case of adults, they are surrounded by many worries and pressures and for some of them learning a second language is a matter of money. When they have these kinds of pressures, adults may tend to adopt very serious and formal study habits that keep them away from learning language in a more natural way. Since the beginning, this formal predisposition to learn English can be considered a deficit that students have to get over.

Rudolf Steiner's philosophy gave us the idea of experience language in any sense making connections between mind and body. Waldorf's curriculum includes a variety of artistic, craft and other nonacademic activities that are useful for teachers to help students raising their self-esteem and confidence. This confidence is raised by the development of talents and skills. I thought about this possibility in adult English learning and the very little opportunities adults have to play with language. What I mean is that not only is learning English or another language important but also how we experience language in general. As adults it's important to go back and adopt a child-like attitude, play as children and enjoy the nature of language. They have to understand that language is in our whole body not only in our mouths or our brains and it is impossible to consider language only as a cognitive skill. The more we live language the greater the chances of having strong language skills. Children in Waldorf schools experiment language by getting involved in activities where they are provide of the necessary vocabulary. This is when children know the words and there exist a meaning in it. Then, it comes the recognition of the letters and finally both elements are joined and the process of reading takes place. This is a natural way to learn the language not by looking at pictures and impressed material that is commonly used in an English class but in a way in which the students experience language. Bilingual children are immerse in the language used by their parents at home so they experience and live language. In Waldorf schools children are involved in different kind of activities that are similar to the ones a bilingual child experiments at home. This is a natural way to learn a language and an opportunity to acquire it, if we consider acquisition as the contextualized use of language. So, the more natural we want to learn English the more natural children language skills will come to us. So let's play and have fun as children throwing negative attitudes that can harm adults' willingness to learn.

It is shown that negative attitudes can reduce learners' motivation and harm language learning, while positive attitudes can do the reverse (Oxford, 2001). Some negative attitudes in adults could have been raised during their years in school when English was a difficult subject or ever since their classes turned boring. Some affective factors considered by (Ehrman, 2003, p. 319) are: motivation, self-efficiency, tolerance of ambiguity and anxiety among others. Anxiety plays an important role in learning and teaching process specially when students are adults because they have pressure of their jobs their families or the simple pressure of getting competence in English.() Horwitz (2001) suggests that it may be possible to reduce the language learners' anxiety by offering them sincere support and interest and in terms of teacher behavior, the suggested strategies includes not calling on individual students, not teaching the language as a massive memorization task and being sensitive to students' out-of-class obligations. Moreover, Crozier (1997) believes that taking breaks, spending time on other activities and physical exercise also contributes to coping with anxiety. Movement so could be the best way to get rid of negative attitudes, among them anxiety and enjoy learning English.

In the Waldorf preschool and kindergarten, the children are helped to move between being quietly inside themselves and being out in the word. Children are helped to move between these two states on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis. At other times teacher will engage in adult rhythmical work such as sweeping, grinding grain, or stirring porridge and then the teacher will imitate or assist. The alternation movement establishes a foundation for the rhythm that occurs later though all the following years in school. When children and adults play outdoors they don't feel the pressure they have in the classroom. When students run and play they can learn how to work in teams so a collaborative spirit that sometimes doesn't exist in adults can be harvested. Some of their jobs bound them to work in bad conditions so stress and physical deficiencies can be display when they try to get involved in a game. More and more adults now suffer stress and pressures from their style of life that's why it is important that they be conscious of the importance of a language as a physical and cognitive development. But why would adults like playing? Just because we have never left behind our internal child, that's why we observe children playing and we have fun seeing them running and laughing. Now society demands more from us, this new life style is more concerned about what you produce than the process of production, the physical, mental and sentimental condition. That's why it is essential to know that learning a language is a never ending process and there is always something new to learn. Learning language can't be limited to a certain number of sessions; on the contrary learning language is a constant and endless learning. Adults have to discard the pressure and the formal attitude toward learning and with teachers concerned about this problems, students will be provided with good conditions that will take them to attain their goals.

Rudolf Steiner conception toward teachers is that they have to have a real concern for education. In Waldorf schools, teachers write about their students always reflectionning on how to help children in trouble. For Gilbert Van Kerckhoven, a Waldorf school's teacher in Australia: "Teaching is not trying to fit the children into a mold. Teaching is enabling the children to reveal their gifts and talents. We often have to search to find the right way to a child before we can succeed in effecting such a revelation. But once we succeed not only the child and teacher but also the whole community will benefit from our efforts". As teachers we have to push students and treat them not as a mere products of English learning but as beings that ameliorate their human capacities, have them show their talents and teach them how to love learning language suitable without any pressure.

Waldorf schools children learn how to move their bodies; they learn how important keeping rhythm in their lives is. Eurythmy is a dice-like activity with an emphasis on movement of the arms and hands. It teaches children to move lightly, consciously, with feeling, and with artistic expressiveness. Some of the benefits: children improve coordination, sense of rhythm and emotional problems. Other movement therapies emphasize emotional or soul issues. Dance therapy, used more with adults, seeks to release fixed emotional energy (often the result of trauma) and/or free psychological patters that have become rigid and set. In the course of therapy, a disowned part of the patients' personal history can be integrated and a healthy harmony of personality can be achieved.

In speech Eurythmy, the movements of the body, particularly the arms, expresses the sounds of the various consonants and vowels. (in addition, there is a Tone Eurythmy, in which musical tones and intervals are expressed by gesture, but Tone Eurythmy is not as often used therapeutically. Each gesture corresponds to a certain sound, has a specific quality and corresponding therapeutic effect. The gesture for the hard K sound in which the hands and arms (or sometimes the legs and feet) are thrust out to the side and makes a chopping gesture which can stimulate the circulation of the blood, which may later benefit the digestive system and breathing. The movement for the letter B sound in which arms make an embracing and enclosing gesture around the body can serve to pull together an emotionally scattered child and also can help the control of problems such as bedwetting, relating to overactive secretions. An exercise utilizing the dynamic R gesture in which arms and hands move with the sweep and force of a breaking wave can bring movement when movement is lacking, in constipation, for example, or it can relieve stiffness and cramping in the hands caused by too many hours at the keyboard. With this basic approach, therapeutic Eurythmy is an effective artistic therapy that uses the body's own healing forces to treat various ailments and disabling conditions.

In second language learning this would be an interesting idea because students could experience language and at the same time be involved in an artistic therapy.

In Waldorf schools there is not any pressure over students so a teacher takes three days to give a lesson that is a shorter two-to-three cycle. This rhythm is based on Rudolf Steiner's idea that if a child (or adult) learns something, has a night to sleep on it, and then reviews it the following day, retention and integration of the real material increases. I consider very important this feature of Waldorf Education because they enlarge and give the students more opportunities to practice and play with language. I totally agree with Rudolf Steiner in his belief that a topic has to be extended in order to make students assimilate and incorporate new knowledge. In adult English classes this condition can provide a more powerful and meaningful lesson so that students can feel confidence when talking and putting language in practice. The same happens with any other subject; when it is well-learned students arrive to comment about the topic even when not in class. The impact of the lesson will endure and perhaps this will be saved forever.

In Waldorf schools, for children to become skilled readers, they need to know that symbols (letters) represents sounds and that clusters of those symbols represent words. But they also need the following: 1. A rich and varied experience of language. 2. A large vocabulary 3. A broad conceptual knowledge based on varied life experiences. 4. Verbal reasoning skills. If we divide an English class lesson plan in three days the results will improve because students will have more practice. In the first day the teacher should to present the new topic, for example if one wants to teach simple past, the first day will be consecrated for teaching the verbs in past. Children can play different games that include the verbs and then they will learn how to write those verbs. This is based on the Steiner´s idea that first the words have to be heard and then written. Children have to have enough play and enough input during the play so that they can recorder in their minds and able to work on them the next day. The second day the teacher will present the grammar structure and will give examples of its uses. So in this way adult students will have the opportunity to practice complete sentences and make examples using different pronouns and several creative complements. All these activities can be alternated by stories, verses, songs and conversations that will give students experience in language and these help them to develop vocabulary (L). I don't think adults would refuse to do these activities. "To make this possible, in Waldorf's schools, children experience creative play. Using simple material such as wooden blocks and pieces of fabric, they create and act situations like going to the store, riding a bus, going to moon. They artistic and craft activities, such as painting, drawing, finger-knitting, and modeling with beeswax. It includes practical tasks, such as grinding grain, kneading bread, raking leaves, shoveling mulch, washing laundry on a wash board, sanding wood, harvesting the garden."

But why is it important to experience language? The only way to experience language is by doing real things and using the language in real contexts. An English class where the only material is a grammar book could turns boring and students could lose motivation. It is known that an adult can acquire a second language only by providing him with good learning conditions and these good conditions have to be with contextualized activities. Some of these conditions are provided by experience, for example bilingual children who have a direct contact with language at home develop strong language skills. Different activities like painting, drawing, finger knitting and more are included in Waldorf School's curriculum so that children can experience language as if they were at home. So when playing, adults lose the formality of traditional education, do physical activities and put in practice their grammatical competence.

Another important feature of Waldorf education that can be applied in second language learning is the oral presentations. To improve student's language and communicative skills adult students can make presentations of topics they like or they are concern about. In Waldorf schools children of four grades are ask to give oral presentations of research and this is how their public speaking experience starts. Practice is the key to have fluency in second language and oral presentations could give this to students apart from make an effort to produce language. (Adam maybe you could help with some of your experiences making your students give oral presentations)

Considering a good atmosphere that an adult learner has to have in order to learn, Steiner made a great study of the colors in order to harmonize learning. We don't know exactly the impact color makes in our lives. Nowadays marketing uses colors to persuade and to impact people's behavior. In Waldorf's schools, color is used in art. Students experience color by drawing, painting, making handwork and so that it reflects the student's mood and perspective towards life. We don't know the multiples advantages that playing with color can give to human beings special when we are stressed adults sick and tired of the pressures of modern society. The pieces of art children make in Waldorf schools are interpreted by teachers and they explore the student's moods. "In their main lessons, they begin to write about their feelings, while in their painting; the children start to use color more consciously to depict not only the outer world but also their inner life of feeling". The question is how can color and painting be used in adult English learning? While painting, students will enlarge their vocabulary lesson involving formal instruction and vocabulary of art. The writing activity in which students express their feeling toward the painting is a great activity for second language learning because they write what they want and not what they are asked for. Students would write without pressures. Moreover these pieces of writing will help the teacher to explore and know his student's feelings, emotions or if something wrong is happening in their life. Again I focus on the important role of the teacher in a Waldorf school.

Another activity that involves color is handwork. For instance, when a child knits for a period of time he has a very close experience with color and as the child rhythmically knits away, breathing in the color as the rows multiply, the color is fostering a peaceful, harmonious feeling rather than a disquieting one. In these schools, the teacher provides guidance in these activities, he/she helps students to recognize when a color combination harmonizes and when colors contrast. These activities promote the emotional health of the child as well as stand as a pedagogical intervention. As pedagogical intervention in adults we can use the example of Virginie Verrier, a successful fashion designer who works for an association helping immigrant women to incorporate themselves in a new society with a different language. She says she was inspired by Rudolf Steiner philosophy of experiencing language. Some of the women are from Pakistan, Nigeria, Morocco, and have joined this association in order to learn the Catalan language and at the same time learn how to sew. The French fashion designer Virgine says that some of the women know how to sew but some of them don't know the language so her purpose is to teach them some basic aspects of the language. ( so never would handwork be a waste of time, adult students would learn a lot from this activity and why not find their hidden talents. Other activities like modeling with colored beeswax, making tissue transparencies, star shapes and so on can be useful activities to teach English. Doing these activities, adult students will learn vocabulary and they will have a great experience with color and their own feelings.

Rudolf Steiner was so interested in harmonizing childhood that he gave a great contribution to the study of colors in the classrooms. He gave some indications of how these have to be colored and suggested that for the older child, as for adults, the greens and blues tend to be calming. So I have another good condition to contribute to adult learning. In Waldorf's schools, the informed, conscientious use of colors fosters the child's moral sense of beauty, promotes learning, positively influences behavior, and helps the healthy development of the child. In adults this can result as a way of relaxing students who are stress and surrounded by many worries.