You make reference to “universal spirituality.” What does that mean and how is it expressed in the classroom?
Most children instinctively know that they are part of a greater reality. At Living Wisdom School, we simply support and encourage this natural awareness.
Spirituality, to us, is an inner reality first, and only secondarily the specific form through which it is expressed. We see the various religious traditions as individual branches of the same great tree. Spirituality is the foundation of life, the essence of who we are and of everyone who shares this planet with us. It’s not as much a subject we study as the way we live and the values and attitudes expressed in what we do.
We celebrate through many different traditions, as examples of how people through the ages have experienced and given form to the inner reality we all share. Morning circle may include prayer, healing prayers for those in need, and quiet time that helps children experience what would otherwise just be intellectual concepts. Stories, affirmation, music, and yoga may be parts of the opening circle as well.
Spirituality, however, is not limited to circle time. All through the day, we’ll make reference to spiritual principles as a way of dealing with whatever comes up, whether it’s a conflict with another child, or learning how to do your best on a timed math test. We help the children learn how to look within for clarity, calmness, and an intuitive understanding of what to do.
An open attitude toward the spiritual side of life makes it easier to talk about the big questions, too, such as death, disappointment, secrets of happiness, right attitudes, and the need to strive for excellence and kindness.
In classrooms, we have altars that display symbols from various world religions. The children learn that there have been many great spiritual figures through the ages, whose inspirations from God have evolved into different religious traditions.
The altar is an active part of the classroom, and the children may add to it whatever items they, too, consider sacred, drawing on the tradition of their families or their personal inspiration. Contributions range from an antique rosary, to a rock, to a picture of Grandma.
The children are encouraged to respect these symbols, but not to be intimidated by them. Objects move on and off the altar all the time. The children incorporate them in their creative work and in their play. It’s not uncommon to see a block structure in the kindergarten topped with a statue of Buddha or a picture of the Virgin Mary, or maybe both together.
Your school sounds great, but what happens when children have to leave there and go into the “real world?”
Children from Living Wisdom Schools thrive in whatever environments they find themselves. Although our school appears to be a sheltered environment, in that we have maintained a kind of innocence and harmony that is rare in schools these days, make no mistake: our children are not protected from the lessons they need to grow up strong and capable. Much of the credit for the positive environment also belongs to the children. The teachers put before them a formidable challenge, and the children rise to meet it.
At Living Wisdom School, we ask much more of children than most schools do. We take responsibility in the way that parents do: every aspect of the child is attended to. In addition to our highly enriched academic program, daily activities incorporate training in essential life skills such as self-understanding, good character, courage, sensitivity to the needs and feelings of others, dynamic energy, will power, positive personal habits, right attitude, skill in resolving conflicts, the ability to be kind and to choose happiness, and developing an inner life.
How do we do it? A very committed and highly trained staff, small classes, individualized attention—these are the foundation stones. The educational system we follow is called Education for Life. It’s much more than we can explain here, but following are some of the keys.
First is the attitude of the teachers. Every child is respected and celebrated as an individual. We don’t start with a predetermined mold that your child has to fit into. We start with the child, guiding each one’s development along the lines most natural to him or her.
Starting in the youngest grades, we teach children how to get along with one another. Harmony and cooperation are arts that can be learned. We help children understand their own feelings, to put words on what they feel, to work things out. We go farther than just resolving disagreements. We help happy children become more consciously aware of how to “choose happiness” and “practice kindness,” rather than feeling they have to just wait and hope that it comes to them.
Everything is designed to help children develop confidence in themselves. A confident child can learn and accomplish anything. Once children lose confidence in themselves, however, learning becomes almost impossible. Emphasis on the strengths of each child, whether academic, physical, social, feeling, or character strengths, gives a huge boost to confidence.
And what’s the result? Children flourish in this environment. When they leave to other schools, or to participate in extracurricular activities in the greater community such as sports, music, or other hobbies, they take with them an ability to learn new things, to make friends, to stand up for themselves if necessary, to relate appropriately to others, to face and overcome challenges. They are a standout in any environment. To be strong in oneself—that is the great gift children receive from Living Wisdom School. They own that, and take it with them wherever they go.
All this sounds good, but what are they actually learning about reading, writing, science, math and everything else they’ll need for high school and university life? It’s a very competitive world, academically. Will they be prepared?
The atmosphere of Living Wisdom School makes possible a highly enriched academic program. Naturally, we make sure they are progressing in accordance with statewide standards, but that is just the starting point. The goals of our academic program are to help students:
• Gain confidence in their own ability to do things they’ve never done before, to absorb new information, to face challenges and solve problems
• Learn how to learn, to study and master anything that interests them, in or out of school
• Discover that learning is fun, to develop love and enthusiasm for learning, to embrace it as a life-long adventure
• Think creatively, be unafraid to take risks, knowing that failure is often the foundation for eventual success
• Go deeply into each subject, to see the inter-relationships, how life is a whole picture and not a series of unrelated fragments
• Achieve their highest potential
How do we do this? In addition to the overall atmosphere described above, the key concepts are:
- Experiential learning
- Individualized instruction
- Integrated curriculum, in which subject areas overlap and combine rather than remaining discrete, separate entities
- This academic approach is very much in keeping with leading edge research, which shows that even the physical brain in young children develops differently if their early education is “brain compatible.”
We have an individual assessment system, rather than letter grades. Using letter grades, we discovered, shifted the focus too easily from what children were learning to the grade they were getting. Letter grades also tend to put children in competition with one another in a way that does not foster true learning. Bright children learn how to get A’s rather than going deeply into the subject at hand. Individual assessment more easily brings out each child’s personal best.
Our small class size allows us to be flexible in the timing of when children meet the required academic standards. What is considered the norm is simply an average which, by definition, cannot apply uniformly to every child. Why hold back the advanced children or undermine the confidence of those who bloom late? With the right attention, all children can express their full potential.
In the cooperative and supportive atmosphere of Living Wisdom School, children have little sense of being “ahead” or “behind.” Every genuine achievement is celebrated, and the children have great incentive to progress. Children can work at different grade levels in different subjects, and feel comfortable having friends of all ages within the school family.
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