Canterbury Steiner School, which caters for children from three to 16, set up Brambles Outdoor Group in 2011 as part of a community outreach programme, attracting up to 25 families for a weekly two-hour session at the nearby Blean Woods in the Kent Downs.
As part of the school’s recent restructuring programme, it has appointed Ms Danika MacLellan, a Kindergarten teacher, to expand the Brambles programme across Kent with the intention of opening another five groups in Sturry, Faversham, Whitstable, Aylesham, Ashford and Deal over the next 12 months.
Martyn Nicholls, the school’s marketing and communications manager, said, ‘Initially, the plan is to expand the programme across Kent, in areas that are densely populated and within reach of our school, so that we may attract a flow of young children that go on to attend our kindergarten.
'But there’s a bigger picture. The intention is not only to educate parents to the Waldorf approach in a relaxed, natural environment but we also hope that other Steiner schools across the country, in particular London, will adopt the same model within their local communities.’
The outdoor sessions, which cost £6 per family, attract a wide cross-section of local parents.
During the sessions the children get a taste of the Waldorf approach to education, which acknowledges the children's strong need to be active learners, giving them the necessary time and space for free child-initiated play so that they can engage their imagination and develop their social and physical skills and innate creativity.
Parents have the chance to have a hot drink and they can take part in an optional seasonal craft or cooking activity. There are songs, rhymes and snacks and the session finishes with circle time.
Mr Nicholls said, ‘The sessions are growing in popularity because parents not only enjoy being outside in nature with their children in a social setting, but they are also looking at alternative approaches to education following Government moves to increase testing and an earlier start to formal education.
'Often Wardolf schools have tended to be quite insular. But the intention of this outreach programme is to give parents a taste of what we offer, which is a tried and tested alternative to a state run nursery, kindergarten or school.’
Janni Nicol, early childhood executive officer at the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, said that outdoor learning is one of the ‘fundamental principles in Steiner Waldorf early childhood education and care’. She added, ‘The natural environment provides varied and nourishing opportunities for self-education, physical skills and sensory integration and is essential for holistic child development.
'We are delighted that more parents and carers from across the county will be able to join and experience the Brambles group.’