Educating Young Students From The Inside Out

Educating Preschool students from the "Inside Out"

Monday, August 29, 2011

The gift of your presence

 Its our weekly story time!  

"Come gather round,
With a friend on the left and friend on the right, 
          Come gather round"
About two years ago I was walking in our local library looking for a new book about love and kindness, that I could select for the children in my Kindergarten class. I usually have an inner guidance and prayer before I go into the library to guide and help me select the perfect book for  teaching a certain "quality" to the children. 
On this particular day, a book literally fell onto my foot. I picked it up without giving it much attention and placed it back on the shelf. It was not the type of book that I would usually select. The cover wasn't that appealing ,expansive with color or intriguing.  Its cover actually had more of  a "cartoon" feel to the it. At the Living Wisdom School we shy away from any theatrical productions, videos and television.
Well, it fell on my foot again. Now, I am somewhat perturbed at this point. I took a moment to look again at the cover. The drawings by Patrick McDonnell looked somewhat familiar. So it intrigued me enough to slow down and sit with the book.
The title of the book: The Gift of Nothing  
This story is about Mooch a friendly little cat who wants to give his friend Earl a gift. This delightful story is around the love and friendship between friends. How often we spend hours trying to find just the perfect birthday gift for a loved one and we are discouraged about what we have chosen. But what should you do when your friend has everything? This is a tale about Mooch searching for the gift of nothing.  This book is for all ages.  I love to read this for our afternoon story or it is a sweet story for the bedtime ritual. You might be able to get away with reading it twice, since you will fall in love with it.
This is surely one book that you will want to give away, but purchase one for your child's shelf as well. 
Patrick McDonnell has quite a nice series of short children's stories. 
I encourage you to take a peak at the library you never know what enticing stories might fall on your foot. 

Joyful reading friends until next Friday.....

Natural rhythms of life

The end of August marks one of the natural planetary shifts from the carefree summer days to the decrease of light and the gradual pull for us to say farewell to yet another summer.

 For both parents and teachers, it is a time for preparing a new beginning.

 For teachers, this time means preparing curriculum and lesson plans and setting up a new environment in the classroom.  Another step that I concentrate on is my spiritual practice of tuning into the children and new families who are arriving very soon. As I mentioned in my last entry, I spend a fair amount of time meeting our new parents.
As part of tuning in , I make a point of spending time with families before school starts.  This tradition started about seven years ago. One summer afternoon I had the opportunity to facilitate a small play-date with about three of my preschool students. I noticed that in just in the short two months of summer, the children had forgotten how to play fairly with their friends, or had not remembered many of the qualities about friendship that I had spent quite a bit of time teaching in the previous school year.
That was when I reflected inwardly about having more formal gatherings with my families during the summer. I can’t tell you the difference that it makes during those first critical weeks in September.  There are so many new things for a young child to learn.  The time we have spent together over the summer bonds us all together early as a group so that we can springboard into our daily activities with inner joy not fearful tears.


 For parents, this late August transition time means a fond farewell to all the summer activities that their children enjoy: sleeping in late, summer sleepovers with friends, making tent forts in the yard and lemonade stands, taking camping trips, participating in swim team and summer camps. A new path is about to emerge, one that involves preparing everyday lunches, organizing the school supplies, and taking the time to actually look at your child's feet to see if he has outgrown his tennis shoes from last spring.
There are many obvious ways parents can begin to make the transitions from summer to school, so I wanted to share a few of my own reflections.
  • Begin to transition their evening dinner and bedtimes to half an hour earlier, and transition this to their normal bedtime a week before school starts.
  • For the very young child who has not attended school before read The Kissing Hand. Discuss the new transitions that the child will be making shortly. 
  • Take short excursions to purchase the items on the supplies list that your child might need for school.
  • Begin to practice new morning schedules, even before school starts. What can your child do in the evening to get ready for the next day?  Help find his shoes, pack his lunch with you and lay out his clothes.
  • Have your child review his summer with you. Have him draw or write a story about his favorite summer activities.
  • In your evening schedule, help you child begin to reflect ahead.  As he is falling asleep, guide him in mental imagery visualization. Tell your child to imagine walking through the door at school, and to picture who he will meet.  Have him see his teacher and his friends.  Create a mental picture for him, including where he hang up all his coat,  how he will head to the bathroom and wash his hands before entering the classroom. Mentally guide him through his day and also guide him through the stage of your return to the classroom. These visualizations will prepare your child and ease any anxiety of returning for a new year in school.
  • If you can go to the school a day or two early, when the teacher is preparing the room, this is also a great way to prepare your child for the first day of school. Call the teacher and see if you can make just a short 15 minute stay. 
  • Reflect inwardly, write a blessing, and hold a strong intention for your child. Keep it on your own special altar. I often have parents write their blessings and bring them to school. We hang our classroom blessings in our entryway on a "blessing branch." These blessings uplift the classroom and spread your good wishes, permeating the spiritual environment of the classroom. 
  • Many teachers ask for a family photo that your child can bring along to have in the classroom. During the course of a day, that photo of you as a family can bring reassurance that you, the loving parent, are always there. 
  • Take a photo of your child or children on the first day of school. I have a friend who has done this every year and it is beautiful to see how her children grow and mature each year. These preserve very precious memories.   
As the summer comes to a close, try to spend extra nurturing time with your child. Slow your parental pace down and take a walk together to explore the simple things of life.  Pick blackberries, go for a bike ride, explore a new park, or go bird watching.  Yet another way to create a fall transition is by going on one of those last summer harvest moon walks together.

 August is a time for new summer transitions with your children. “Breathe out” the summer memories and breathe in the adventure of a new school year that is about to unfold.

 "Breathing in, I dwell deeply in the present moment. Breathing out, I know this is a wonderful moment. Present moment/ wonderful moment." --
  Thich Nhat Hanh

    Thursday, August 18, 2011

    To walk in sacred space

     The summer has just arrived in the Northwest and its almost time for us to return back to school.

    At the beginning of each new year, I like to set up time to bond and play with my new students during the summer. This week was our second chance to enjoy our new friends and families. In gratitude the sun has been shining all week. The Ananda Community has five expansive acres to explore. The children just bath in the peaceful beauty and the serene sacred landscape. I often hear tears from the children when their parents have to put them in the car to drive home. 
    Young children love animals

    Isn't that what I eat in Chinese food?

    How do green beans grow?

     Where do carrots come from?

    There are many paths to explore

    How did all these rocks get here? This is our heart path. Sacred hearts are all through these rocks.    
    Look, I found one!    
     A wise saint said: "Environment is stronger than will." Children can feel the power of a sacred space. I  have the wonderful opportunity to facilitate this at the our Living Wisdom School. What a journey we are about to embark on together as we prepare for a new school year.
    "Where Ganges, woods, Himalayan caves and men dream God.
    I am hallowed; my body touched that sod!"
    Stanza taken from the poem,  "My India "
     Whispers from Eternity by: Paramhansa Yogananda

    Saturday, August 13, 2011

    Once upon a time in a land far, far, away.....

     One main focus of this blog is to mention some favorite books I have found over the years.  I’ll write each Friday about the spiritual gems contained in them.

    Often  I have been asked by educators and parents how to teach spiritual truths to young children. My background has brought a rich love of books, treasures and memories.  I find that reading is an easy place to begin to awaken the enthusiasm in a young child.  Reading to our children, students and grandchildren is a timeless experience.  Through reading we can explore and create imaginary worlds, and experience within the deepest part of ourselves that which creates an inner world of deep meaning, love and truth.

    When working with children's literature there, are many ways to deeply look at the contents of a story.  I love large formatted picture books, but with our culture turning into more visual stimulus for children , I now lean towards not always showing the pictures, but weaning the children into closing their eyes and imagining what the story might look like. This can happen even at the early age of four. I also want to build children’s comprehension and hands on the literacy, an approach used today in alternative education.

    The next stage after reading a story would be to act out the story through puppet shows, felt pieces or with a child’s whole being. These timeless stories have the children ask again and again for the opportunity to re-enact them in class.

    Today's book review is Pinduli,  by Janell Cannon.

    Janell Cannon  is famous for her illustrations. Her very familiar, award-winning book Stellaluna  has sold over 500,000 copies. It was on the bestseller list for more than two years.

    Pindulu takes place in Africa savanna and is about a little hyena and his mother. An expression of love is shown throughout the story, as Pindulu’s mother assures her how beautiful she is. However, Pindulu finds out early that the animals in the savanna have a different view of her big ears, fuzzy mane, and wiggly stripes.  Through a chain of events, Pindulu finds that she just wants to hide and return home to the safety of her mother. She decides to cover her fur with pale dust.  On her way home the animals think she's an evil spirit, or a ghost who's come for revenge. This is my favorite part of the story: Pinduli convinces all the animals to make up for their harsh lashings.   The story reveals many spiritual truths about choosing your words carefully, friendship, anger and talking harshly to others.

    I love this book, and have used it in many settings from kindergarten to sixth grade. As an educator, I will select this story if I need reinforcement to drive home lessons about circumstances that may have happened on the playground or the classroom.  I like to make up games to enhance the spiritual points in the story. This is also one of my favorite stories about teaching children the law of magnetism and the secrets of friendship. Loyalty, kindness, acceptance, and appreciation of others are all high ideals we want to instill in our children.  This story can help in that endeavor.

    I have had the wonderful opportunity for the past 17 years to work with Eastwest Bookshop of Seattle, a spiritual, independent bookshop that is able to order books, make suggestions, and serve as a guiding light in selecting high quality spiritual books for children and families.  We are very fortunate to have such a quality store that is in tune with the principles of our Living Wisdom School. Eastwest Bookshop of Seattle will order any book that you might need in a timely fashion and offer you the opportunity to browse through books in their family section. It has a warm, nurturing environment that will welcome you home to the magnetism of spirit, beauty and truth.

    Happy reading, friends…until next Friday. 

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Lightly I fly when I live in laughter

    Have you ever had the experience of being with a young child when they were able to witness a butterfly for the first time? For the young child a beautiful butterfly represents freedom, lightness, transformation and an exhilarating openness of spirit. Their whole body awareness changes and their body energies begin to match that of the butterfly. Their eyes light up and with their own beings they experience joy. Very often children will pretend to fly immediately, swooping to catch the butterfly barehanded or to watch where he may softly land. What is it about these small creatures that frees our children from any cares in the world to experience oneness with an insect’s spirit?
     Each summer I have the extreme pleasure of writing spiritual curriculum for the Ananda Yoga Day Camp sponsored by the Living Wisdom School of Seattle.  The Ananda Yoga Day camp is held on the grounds at the AnandaCommunity in Lynnwood, Washington. This year, my eleventh year of working at the camp, one of the residents at the Ananda Community asked me if I thought the children would like to have the opportunity of experiencing a labyrinth walk. We both had to think about how we could "playfully" provide a meaningful inner experience for them. Our minds resonated with transformations and butterflies. How then would we use the labyrinth to provide a direct experience of beauty and transformation—the theme for the day—based on the flow learning techniques taught through the Education for Life principles?
    We opened the day with our daily yoga class, focusing on inner transformation. One of my favorite affirmations to share is, “I radiate love and good will to soul friends everywhere.” As we said this affirmations we focused on our friends from past, present and future. 
    Another favorite is: "Strength and courage fill my body cells. Joy descends to me."
    After our yoga class we heard a short story from a guest speaker. She told us about the history of labyrinths and the ancient methodology that people practiced while walking the labyrinths. We reverently took the children up to the spot where the labyrinth had been built.
    Each child was asked to select something in nature that they could offer at the center altar as a symbol of energy, beauty and transformation. We selected three children at a time to walk the labyrinth.
    At the altar, I carefully wrapped each of the children in their own cocoon. They then turned and walked back out the way they came. During this time we also had one of our camp counselors playing a brass singing bowl. All was still, peaceful, and extremely loving.
    After each child walked the labyrinth, the children were also invited to make their own finger labyrinths. During our afternoon activities the children had the opportunity to take their cocoon and transform it into their own individual butterfly wings. The children and adults all dyed the cocoons.

    Transformation, spirituality, and beauty take many forms. Our children were able to experience the playful spirit of the butterfly as they danced though the playgrounds in the woodland forests on that warm summer day.

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011

    With a song in my heart.

    There is a song that comes to mind: " Lets' start at the very beginning, its a very good place to start. When you read you begin with A-B-C, When you sing you begin with do-re-mi." So here I am, beginning with a song.

    Everyone has to start somewhere. In my classroom at school, we begin with a song or a chant each morning. This can be something as easy on my mp3 player playing in the background or me sitting to play on the harmonium, a new chant that I want to teach my students.

    The main reason for my writing a blog is that over many months of research I have yet to find many educators teaching to young children in the way I teach through the Education for Life principles. Education for Life is a philosophy of holistic education that emphasizes experiential learning, spiritual development and practical skills for living such as concentration, self-discipline and compassion. The fundamentals of the philosophy are described in the book: Education for Life, by J. Donald Walters. Using these principles the Living Wisdom School was  founded in 1972 by Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, the author of Autobiography of a Yogi. From this original school the Education for Life System has expanded to now include campuses on three continents.

    Thus begins my journey with sharing our way of teaching to young children using these universal concepts . This blog will include content from my classroom, our Living Wisdom School in Shoreline, Washington and through other venues where I may be teaching. I look forward to your comments. It is a little frightening beginning something like this. But as so many before have taken the leap of faith I too will be just singing a chant as I begin the process. Until tomorrow. Joy, Joy, Joy, Ever New Joy, Joy.