by: Molly Brett
In Waldorf Early Childhood education, we work to foster and strengthen the young child’s imagination. We do this by focusing on many different aspects of life that support the child’s growing creative forces. Our classrooms are designed to be warm, inviting, and inspiring for the children in our care while intentionally making available simple, natural, and open-ended items that can be utilized in many ways. Our songs and stories use rich vocabulary to stimulate and encourage language development as well as, the ability to create whimsical, internal imagery. Our arts and crafts help to develop the children’s motor skills, self-esteem, and sense of beauty—enlivening both their inner and outer worlds. An artistic practice that is unique to Waldorf education is wet-on-wet watercolor painting. Today we will delve deeper into this artistic practice by looking at what it is, why it is a part of our curriculum, and how this activity builds on itself throughout the years.
Wet-on-wet watercolor painting creates a fluid and dreamy artistic experience for the young child. The colors move, change, and possibly mix creating an ever-changing landscape of emotive color. In Waldorf Early Childhood education our goal is for the young child to encounter the variations of shade, tone, and even mood of all the colors of the rainbow. We start slowly with one color at a time. Beginning in the fall we will paint with yellow mirroring the golden rod we see growing in the fields and then in a few weeks when the apples are ripe and ready to be harvested, we will transition to the color red. We will be singing songs about juicy apples, making apple sauce, and experiencing the gesture of the color of the season thru our wet-on-wet watercolor painting. As the seasons change so does the color. Once the trees are bare, the temperature has dropped, and we are anticipating “King Winter’s” arrival and his bearing of the first snow we transition into the blue of winter. The contrast between the Red of Fall and the Blue of winter is soul-felt throughout our weekly painting time. These gestures are never spoken to but simply experienced as we glide our brushes over our paper. Eventually, the colors begin to “play” with one another, and the children begin a quiet exploration of the secondary colors and how they arise.
The painting sessions in Waldorf Early Childhood are process-oriented and led thru imitation by the teacher. There is little to no talking once the painting has begun. The teacher quietly illustrates the process: sponge dry the wet paper, “dip, dip” the brush in the color, “drip, drip” the brush on the side of the container, and allow the brush to glide across the paper from left to right our eyes following the brush just like when we read. We are not focused on an end product while painting. The nurturing of the senses and the therapeutic gesture of the activity is what we strive to create space for in our weekly painting rhythm.
Not only do our weekly painting sessions create a space for experiencing the gesture of color but they are also a time to develop healthy habits that will carry into grade school when wet-on-wet watercolor becomes more complex. Learning to respect and care for the watercolor materials is woven into our painting time. In my class, a story is shared to invoke the child’s imagination in this process and to develop imagery for the processes of painting. It is because of the intention of creating this form that the space for a quiet and meditative experience becomes available. Hopefully, the skill of learning how to quiet the mind and oneself lives on within the child for years to come.
For young children, the gift of time and space for play and the creative process is foundational for the growth of imagination, the strengthening of originative forces, and the experience of the fluidity of thought. Wet-on-wet watercolor painting embodies these concepts thru a physical and concrete exercise of exploration by a participatory process. This ethereal experience of color deepens the child’s connection to the seasons thru color and offers an inner experience which develops the feeling forces within, all the while honoring where the child is developmentally. When we honor and teach towards the malleability of the young child’s mind, we strengthen the imagination, and just like the malleability of color the birth of the heart forces and critical thinking arise in due time. Like the birth of spring, in the early childhood classroom, when suddenly the yellow of the golden sun meets the blue of the sky making way for the lushness of green on our paper, suddenly the magic of growth and creation is reflected back to us right before our eyes.