- It channels children’s physical strengths.
- It gives them tremendous satisfaction to see the fruits of their labors.
- It gives them a sense of greater connection with the community.
- They start to feel responsible for something positive that is more concrete and practical.
- It offers them an opportunity for them to care for others, and give something to others.
- Each time we work there it gives us an opportunity to learn something new, and to work with different people.
The first Living Wisdom school was started by Nitai Deranja at Ananda Village in California in 1972. J. Donald Walters, also known as Swami Kriyananda, asked Nitai to start a school based on experiential learning, practical skills for living and universal spiritual principles.
The book, Education for Life, was written by Swami in 1986. This seminal book began a tremendous flow of energy that planted the seeds of the EFL philosophy in the hearts of many compassionate educators and parents. We now have five thriving Living Wisdom Schools based on the Education for Life Philosophy and many smaller schools starting up just in the last several years. EFL is a global movement bringing consciousness into education from preschool through higher education.
Swami Kriyananda passed away April 20th in Assisi, Italy.
I’m not a member of the Ananda spiritual community, but I have been deeply touched by J. Donald Walters’ work. I taught in mainstream settings for 10 years, holding as my intention (with wildly varying degrees of success) to be a channel of love for my students. I’ve studied many books and theories of education, but they all have seemed to lack some spiritual depth. They have glossed over how to develop a heart connection between teacher and student, and how to support and encourage the naturally compassionate hearts of children.
When I went to “interview” for a teaching position at Living Wisdom School, I figured I should study up on the philosophy. As I crammed for the interview, reading through Education for Life, I was blown away by the deep truths unfolding as I read. It was the first education book I had ever read that I completely agreed with and was totally inspired by. As I’ve gotten deeper into this work, I have felt incredibly blessed to work in this community. I am surrounded by people who are working to bring love and heart-connection to education. This open-heartedness has been an inspiration for my teaching practice AND for my own personal spiritual practice.
I am enormously grateful to J. Donald Walters for putting these ideas into the world and for dedicating his life to service. May we bravely continue the work he has inspired.
Spring has come to Portland, and with it, a return to our weekly trips to Laurelwood, the 50 acre retreat center that we get to use for school once a week.
The Primary class (1st/2nd) has a great routine for the day. We leave first thing in the morning to drive the 30 minutes to get there. When we arrive, we check in with our favorite spot, the chicken coop and say “hi” to our dear friends the chickens. Then we split up into 2 groups and spend the morning learning outside. We’ve been studying the water cycle in the classroom, so this week one group made an evaporation experiment, while the other drew and wrote about the clouds we observed from atop a hill. We read books and illustrated the water cycle, too. After lunch, we have an hour of free exploration time. It is remarkable to see what arises from play in a more wild place. This week, the students made daisy and dandelion chains, and also to built a house out of logs and twigs – their home as they were all rabbits. Then, we head back to school to talk about what we observed and to ask questions for our next trip to Laurelwood.
The Intermediate (3rd/4th)students leave later in the morning so they can do Spanish at school. They had a conversation as a class about how wonderful it is for us to be able to spend so much time at Laurelwood, and they decided as a class that they’d like to be of service to the community. So, the first hour that they are there, they do some sort of service project. This week, they laid cardboard for a new garden bed. The last hour there is for free exploration and some hands-on experiences based on what they’ve been learning in the classroom.
The Upper Elementary students (5th-7th) have independently taken on a project on the land. They discovered a long-abandoned old chicken coop and have been working each week on fixing it up. They also take specialty classes with teachers who live on campus or other residents who want to share their talents. This week the students started an painting class that focuses on exploring their creativity.
We are truly blessed to be able to spend this much time in nature. The students bring back rich questions that we can spend time exploring in the classroom. Best of all, with these regular visits, each child has developed their own relationship with and love of the land. They look forward to each trip.
One of the greatest puzzles facing teachers and parents today is how to teach students who can’t seem to keep still, either with their bodies or their voices. There is a spectrum of this high-energy behavior, most of which falls within the realm of normal childhood behavior. I myself would like to have a word with the person who thought it was a good idea to have kids (or adults, for that matter) sit at a desk for hours at a time and call that education.
One piece of the puzzle that we work with is integrating body-based activities into all our learning. When we were studying maps, I had each child choose a continent or ocean to be and we spread out around the room, trying to understand where we belong in relation to the others. Our study of trees involved many instances of acting out trees, individually and as a group. It can be a challenge to figure out how to include body-oriented learning into each day, but it’s important in order to meet the needs of all the students.
The other day, as we were settling down to practice our handwriting, one of my students raised her hand and calmly said, “Rachel, my feet feel like they need to move”. I was impressed with her body-awareness and her calm confidence in trusting the message her body was sending her. I sent her outside to run a few laps outside the classroom, and she returned calm and focused, ready for handwriting.
We also have a “calming corner” in the classroom. This is a comfortable space where the students can go to practice calming exercises. They know breathing exercises, yoga poses, and other body work strategies that they can use to calm themselves down, and they can go to the calming corner anytime they need to.
Most of the body and breath work they practice in the calming corner can be used anywhere in the classroom, too. I have a few students who really need to be moving and talking, and sometimes it feels like it never stops. Rather than continually remind them to sit still or be quiet, I’ve been working with them to do a calming exercise. It shifts the focus from their behavior to their inner state. The shift to inner calmness can be remarkable, and is a relief both for me and the students. It can take a lot of reminders, but the hope is that eventually, they will notice how good it feels to be calm in their bodies, and will want to go there as soon as they notice they’ve lost it.
What to do with un-centered and powerful energy (our culture prefers the term “hyperactivity”) in our kids remains a puzzle. We are working to put together the pieces in different ways.
Here’s a wonderful story from our Upper Elementary (5th-7th grade) teacher, Matthew Fredrickson
A group of my students were recently confronted with a very serious childhood problem: the invasion of a sacred play space. At our school, a large Pine tree keeps a protective watch over the parking lot play area, and the base of this tree is the favored enclave for my 5th, 6th, and 7th graders and their imaginative games. Ritualistically they gather there and create fairy houses, miniature walkways, and make “natural food” from mud, sticks, stones and berries. It is upon holy ground that these children-ages ten to thirteen-engage in sophisticated, almost meditative, role-play fantasies in the golden years of their childhood.
One day, they were genuinely horrified to discover a parked car in their special place, and some of their creations destroyed. How could they?-the children asked. Don’t they know what this is? Don’t they see? I sympathized. I tried to explain that certainly whomever had parked there meant no harm, that they likely just didn’t see what was there, and didn’t realize they’d done any harm. The children weren’t satisfied. They wanted names. They demanded to know who was responsible for this outrage; whom they could blame-whom to punish. This is such an easy road to take for all of us isn’t it? The easiest game to play-The Blame Game. This wasn’t the first invasion of their magical sanctuary. It’s in a fairly exposed position-I tried to explain to them-next to the street, in a busy parking lot, vulnerable to the countless people who drive and walk through the area, maintenance workers who monthly sweep the schoolyard with leaf-blowers, not to mention the random general public.
These facts, and whatever unintentional disruption may occur as a result, can’t be changed. So, given that understanding, I asked them what a possible solution might be. One of the children suggested, “How about we throw stuff on the hood of the car?” I reminded the children that such an action was not a solution but only a momentarily satisfying act of revenge. What are some real solutions? I asked them again. What can you do to protect your play area and your creations? Is there anything you can do? I helped them, and they needed a lot of help, to change their mode of thinking; to engage in creative problem solving in a difficult moment.
They eventually devised an ingenious solution that protects and conceals their game, and it’s implements, from all forces of nature and anticipated human factors.
Solution-consciousness is a learned skill and not instinctual for most human beings. If children can be guided toward creative problem solving, and solution-oriented thinking from their early years, they will be well on their way to success as mature and happy adults.
Lately, I’ve been enjoying introducing affirmations to the Primary class at various points in the day. I’ve found that doing a brief affirmation introduces sweet and positive spiritual moments throughout our day. We learn a new one weekly when we practice a new letter in the Vimala handwriting system. We’ve also been integrating Mudras into our mini-yoga class that we do to transition from Communication to Math class. Using the book Mudras: A Yoga for your Hands, by Gertrud Hirschi, we say a short affirmation along with the Mudra we are practicing.
A couple of weeks ago, I shared with the students the book, I Think, I Am!: Teaching Kids the Power of Affirmations, by Louise L.Hay. The book gives several real-life examples of times that kids might feel confused or frustrated. The students really enjoyed this book, and I watched on their faces as they related with certain situations and focused on the affirmations that went with them. So, each child picked an affirmation from the book that they wanted to focus on. Then, they wrote it down and illustrated it. Here are a few affirmations to brighten up your day.
As winter has returned to Oregon, we are taking fewer field trips and spending more time inside. Dance is one of the indoor activities that we’ve started doing more of around here. The Primary (1st/2nd grade) students learned an Indian (Garba) dance from our intermediate teacher, Sonali, to perform at our Winter performance. The Intermediate and Upper Elementary students (3rd-6th grade) are learning some choreographed dancing for a Spring performance.
There is, of course, the body. Students gain a growing awareness of their body, how they move in space, and how they can communicate using their bodies. I’m sure some students would be overjoyed with an all-dancing curriculum, since they would never have to sit in a chair!
Then, there are the feelings. When the primary class was learning their dance, I had them, first of all, just listen to the music, and move their body as they thought it should be moved. They were tuning into this unfamiliar form of music, and practiced expressing with their body what they were hearing. They came to appreciate the music for what it inspired in their own hearts.
Next is the will. When the Primary students started complaining about practicing, we sat down and had a chat. We all agreed that practicing is boring. So, why would we do something so boring? We talked about the performances we have enjoyed and how important it was for those performers to practice in order to bring such a great performance. Then, we made a list of our goals – what we wanted to make sure we did on the night of the performance. These goals activated their inner motivation (will) and they were intent and focused for the rest of our practices.
Finally, there is the intellect. Dance is an incredible practice of the intellect. There are sequences and patterns and timing of steps. We break beats into fractions, and a hands-on (rather, bodies-on) understanding of parts of the whole is developed. We understand space between ourselves in relation to other people and calculate how fast or slow we must move to meet another body. Our bodies become pulleys and joints and we explore force and trajectory.
All of the tools of maturity are covered, and there is an added bonus (as there usually is with well-rounded activities). Dancing is fun! We get to dress up and entertain folks on the performance night, and our lessons are filled with dancing!
At the beginning of my teaching career, I often felt very worried about how students behaved toward each other. I put the expectation on myself to create perfectly behaved, well-mannered kids to show off how awesome my classroom is, as some sort of reflection of my teaching skills.
As I’ve gained experience, I realize that it’s important to teach excellent behavior and manners, but it sometimes just doesn’t happen. Kids respond to each other in unexpected ways, often exploring boundaries. It is not a reflection of bad teaching or bad kids when conflicts occur. Rather, it is best to see these times as the most compelling teachable moments.
Our kindergarten teacher, Helen, tells of one recent teachable moment that arose from conflict. Her student said something unkind to another student. When she tracked him down, he got very angry, knowing trouble was inevitable, so she took him inside for a chat.
“Was that kind, what you did?” Helen asked.
“No.” He responded.
“Did you know that what you put into the world is what you get back from the world? If you say things like that to people, what will you get back?”
“I like to get love,” Helen explained.
“Why don’t you give out love, if you like to get it?”
“I don’t want to give it away, I want to keep it all to myself.”
Now, having gotten to the root of the problem, Helen continued, “You know, love is special because when you give it out, it will never run out. In fact, the more you give away, the more you make and you have more for yourself. Isn’t that wild? I don’t know how that works, but that’s just the way love works.”
The student was quite calm and thoughtful about this. As soon as they returned to the playground, he apologized to the other student.
At Living Wisdom Schools, we support the exploration and expression of all sorts of traditions and we focus on the Festivals of Light celebrated around the world this time of year. We ask our families to share their traditions we us, teach us something, and expand the possibilities of what we can do with our families. This diversity of traditions is a blessing and gift for our school community.
“I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.
Bardia Behmard is an intern working at the Living Wisdom School in Portland. Here’s a poem he wrote for the blog about the importance of developing will.
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” —Mahatma Gandhi
Dear Will Power,
We’d all still be lying in bed,
On the ceiling
We’d still be stuck in our old ways
Would be half done,
And every meal
Dear Will Power!
What would we do
The human race forward