Joan Almon is the Founding Director of the Alliance for Childhood and currently serves as its Director of Programs. She is a former co-chair of the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America and a consultant on early childhood education. She believes that one of the best ways to support children is to support their play time, “for in play, children address all the situations in their lives and find solutions for them.”1
While studying sociology at the University of Michigan, Joan also worked as a social science research aide and social work aide. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology in 1966 and spent the next two years doing administrative work for the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a civil rights organization, and the National Sharecroppers Fund, an anti-poverty organization.2
In 1971, Joan was a co-founder, administrator, and kindergarten teacher for the Waldorf School of Baltimore. This began a lifelong passion for the education of young children in general and the Waldorf approach to education in particular. The Waldorf educational approach was developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919 and promotes educating the whole child: “the heart and the hands, as well as the head.”3
Beginning in 1975, Joan furthered her education with graduate courses in Waldorf education through Towson State University in Towson, Maryland; the Acorn Hill Children's Center in Silver Spring, Maryland; the Waldorf Institute in Detroit, Michigan; and the Rudolf Steiner Summer Institute in Waterville, Maine.
Expanding her studies overseas, Joan spent the 1978 school year as an assistant in the Rudolf Steiner Kindergarten in Vienna, Austria. Upon her return to the United States in 1979, she became a Waldorf kindergarten teacher at the Acorn Hill Children's Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, a position she would hold until 1989.
During this time, in 1983 Joan became a co-chair of the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America and over the next 20 years she would be either a co-chair or chair of this association. In 1984, she became the editor of the Waldorf early childhood educator's newsletter, Gateways, a position she held until 2000.4 And in 1986, she joined the board of the International Waldorf Kindergarten Association.
After ten years of teaching at Acorn Hill, in 1989, Joan became a lecturer, adult educator, and consultant for Waldorf kindergartens and trainings in North and South America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and Asia. In 1993, she joined the Council of the U.S. Anthroposophical Society, a non-sectarian, non-political organization that furthers the work of Rudolf Steiner. Nine years later in 2002, Joan became the General Secretary of the Society.
While training and consulting, Joan also began writing about Waldorf education and about children's play beginning with “The Child: Play and Development of the Young Child” in 1992.5 Later articles included “Endangered Childhood” (1998), “The Vital Role of Play in Early Childhood” (2003), and the foreword to Children at Play (1996). She felt that, “Play is an integrating activity – it integrates children's cognitive, emotional, social, and physical capacities, and it has the potential to socially integrate neighborhoods and wider communities.”6
Joining like minded professionals, Joan assisted in forming the Alliance for Childhood in 1999. As Executive Director she led their campaign to “restore imaginative, freely chosen play to children's lives, at home and in school.”7 They have collaborated with other organizations focused on restoring play as well as concerning other childhood issues, such as the overuse of electronics, the commercialization of children, and the effects of “high-stakes” testing.8 The Alliance has published reports and position statements on the emerging research concerning these issues.
Joan, with Edward Miller, in one of these Alliance reports noted that, “Numerous studies – some extending over decades – show the effectiveness of play-based education that combines hands-on learning with child-initiated play.”9 They further declared that the demands of No Child Left Behind, the yearly standardized tests, and the resulting reduced recess time have contributed to increased aggressive behavior among kindergarteners as well as a noticeable loss of their curiosity and creativity. They concluded that, “Even more vital than early reading is the learning of play skills, which form the foundation of cognitive skills.”
Recognizing that play is important for all regardless of abilities or disabilities, Joan has a vision of utilizing playworkers to facilitate inclusive play at playgrounds. She has noted that even if the physical barriers to play are erased through better playground designs and equipment, there still remains the social and ability barriers to inclusive play. Utilizing playworkers for “modeling inclusive play behavior by playing with children with disabilities, or translating their play wishes to children without disabilities, is a powerful tool. So is (their) addressing the concerns or fears of typically developing children who are reluctant to play with children with disabilities.”10
Accordingly, the inclusion of children of all abilities in natural play and the importance of playworkers to facilitate play are two emerging fields within the play movement with which Joan is involved. She is forming a working group on inclusive play and is promoting the academic and professional development of playwork and playworkers who would assist children to rediscover play, set the tone for inclusive play, and provide a watchful presence over the children as they play.