Our program is inspired by the ideas of Rudolf Steiner as well as contemporary scientific research that highlight the importance of play for the healthy and holistic development of children.

We particularly emphasise self-directed play as a prime way in which children learn about the world and those who live in it.

Our program is experiential, based on the conviction that academic instruction is best postponed until primary school. We build the foundation for cognitive learning through a variety of play and work activities.


At Once Upon a Time, we strive to encourage and protect the sense of wonder and gratitude to nourish the child’s imagination and provide a warmth-filled place to work, play and create.

Children enjoy a daily rhythm of activities including outdoor play, singing, handwork, cooking and painting. This rhythm is repeated daily and flows smoothly and predictably so the children feel secure and relaxed within.

We commence and conclude with the same verse each day. The same morning circle, generally relating to the season or an approaching festival is repeated for three or four weeks.

This daily repetition enables the children to learn poems, songs and action play by imitating. This stimulates their memory, sequencing, vocabulary and clarity of speech. Gestures, movement and finger play are also incorporated into our songs and verses.

We see imagination, creativity and wonder as essential in early childhood and their development is encouraged by free play. We aim for at least 90 minutes of uninterrupted play so that the children have time to unfold their imagination and we prepare the environment accordingly.





The curriculum at Once Upon a Time is strongly focused on child-initiated play. The critical role of imaginative free play, for learning in young children, has been well established in scientific research. It has shown that children who engage in complex forms of socio-dramatic play have greater language and social skills, more empathy, imagination, and subtle capacity to know what others mean. They are also less aggressive and show more self-control and higher levels of thinking.

Once Upon a Time’s environment encourages children to initiate play and learn by freely exploring the world around them. Our rooms and outdoors areas are rich with materials, household items and playthings that stimulate the imagination and create settings for social interaction, role play, imitation and creative expression.

Our unique ‘Junkyard’ has become a haven in which children create their own imaginary worlds, structures and adventures.

Further Reading

Waldorf Library –  www.waldorflibrary.org

Steiner Education Australia – www.steinereducation.edu.au

Rudolf Steiner Book Centre Sydney – www.rudolfsteinerbookcentre.com.au

Steiner E.Childhood Education – www.steinereducation.edu.au




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Children are natural learners that observe, imitate and construct meaning from what exists in their close environment. Thus, our activities are usually designed to be open-ended, use natural materials, involve integration of different senses, and to allow for individual expression, imagination and the a feeling of success.



We view play as the serious work of childhood, and that learning by doing provides the foundation for active imagination, problem solving, and creative thinking.

Children engage in uninterrupted play as part of their indoors and outdoors activities. Their imagination can run free using materials, household items and playthings that we have carefully chosen or constructed from natural materials. These include silk cloths, wooden animals, trains and cars, handmade dolls, free form wooden blocks, nuts, shells, and much more.

Our outdoor environment has natural ground cover, large trees, a vegetable garden, cubby house and ‘junkyard’, which are all areas where children like to immerse in play.



Festivals are both celebration and recreation. They enforce shared values, strengthen the community and mark development through time. Children learn to trust that the seasons will follow each other creating a larger sense of rhythm in their lives.

Journeying with the children through the seasons of the year, through festivals, gardening, and craft activities, we bring a sense of wonder and reverence for nature. Through cooperative and careful work indoors and outdoors we encourage respect for both the environment and one another.



Bread making is a purposeful as well as sensual activity. The children make it and then eat what they made. The dough is soft, smells and tastes good and the children can make shapes with it. The special rhythm, song, and ritual create a special mood in the room.



The children paint with great enthusiasm and experience the colours with no inhibition what so ever. On the damp paper, the water colours spread out and either run into one another or ray out in the other direction. The therapeutic sense of water contributes to calmness and wonder as well as skills development and sensory/motor integration. It also allows the development of sequence and self-regulation.



Particularly characteristic of our programme is that stories are told and not read from a book. Teachers create stories and use different props while telling them and create a special atmosphere for story-telling time.

Listening to a story creates a special concentration in children while the darkened room, burning candle, song and music build a mood of wonder. The story images create an inner picture in the children that influences and nurtures them.

Our practice of storytelling contributes to language development. The child’s memory is developed along with a sense for the beauty and expressiveness of language.



Circle time is an opportunity to come together as a group. It involves singing, speaking, movement and gesture. We usually centre the circle on a theme and build up a little story made of songs, rhymes, finger play and singing games.

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Gardening is a wonderful and enriching experience for the children. The activities around the garden involve team work, motor skills, communication, purposefulness and fun.

Throughout the seasons the children, faculty and parents assist in planting. Each class tends to its own garden plots by planting various bulbs, flowers, and vegetables during the spring and autumn. As a result, the children are able to see for themselves the fruits of their labour. They enjoy decorating the classroom with the flowers, and eating the vegetables for snack!



Dialectic between structure and freedom comes into expression in our junkyard. The boundary around the junkyard gives the children the security of knowing that this is their own micro-world in which they may freely express their feelings.

Play in the junkyard involves the whole person: muscles and senses, emotion and intellect, individual growth and social interaction. We believe the junkyard makes an important contribution to our children’s readiness for 1st grade. Here, children gain experiential foundations on which they can build more abstract learning in the years to come.