Ananda Pune’s New Biweekly Children’s and Parents’ Programmes
by Brahmacharini Prisha (read as a PDF Biweekly Children_Parent Programmes in PDF)
“Could we have an ongoing children’s programme?”, urged several Ananda Pune parents back in February.
In response, community children now gather every other Sunday at the City Centre for an inspirational as well as fun hour and a half of nature, art, and crafts activities; games; stories; “meditation lite”; yoga poses; affirmations; and Ananda children’s songs.
In the top picture to the left, you see a recent session with the children. Proud grandparents watch from the sidelines. The bottom picture shows the children playing a “Sharing Nature” game outside.
Our new initiative has deep roots in Ananda’s acclaimed Education for Life (EFL) philosophy and practices, developed by Swami Kriyananda along the lines of Yoganandaji’s own approach to children’s education prior to his departure from India.
Other holistic and experiential resources developed by innovative Ananda members are also used, such as I Came from Joy!, a series of activities for children’s spiritual education and exploration, and the multiawarded Sharing Nature publications.
Leading the children’s programme are enthusiastic young Ananda educators Gaurja Prashar, a certified EFL teacher, and Namita Raghav, an EFL India outreach associate.
While the children meet downstairs at the Centre, the parents meet upstairs with me to discuss ways that EFL can be applied toward successful parenting, especially in their own families. We make use of the same resources as in the children’s programme along with others developed by EFL educators for fostering universal life values — as well as other materials developed by Gayatri Nambiar and me, co-directors of EFL India, in our long collaboration in Indian parent and teacher training.
These pictures are from a recent parents’ gathering at which EFL’s new Life Skill Action Charts were introduced. They won great interest and immediate application at home, judging by comments on our Ananda Parents WhatsApp group. Soon we’ll be able to have threaded discussions online at our EFL India Web site.
All Ananda children and parents are welcome to join these programmes at any time. To do so, please contact Gaurja for the children’s programme (firstname.lastname@example.org) or me for the parents’ programme (email@example.com).
Sunday School at the Centre
(A reflection on the children’s programme by one of its directors)
by Namita Raghav
The month of April brought some good news for parents looking for a direction, guidance and support to address the different needs of their children in different age groups … and the news extends to those children who have been looking forward to making their Sundays all the more meaningful, joyful, and exciting.
The news is the advent of Sunday school at the Centre!!!
Sunday School began on 4 March and is conducted every alternate Sunday, i.e., twice a month. The purpose is to provide a support system to the parents of children in different age groups and sowing seeds of spirituality in children by simple, playful activities by applying Education for Life (EFL) principles. EFL is a system of education with the mission of providing children with a balanced education of body, feelings, will, and intellect in preparation for using life’s diverse challenges to discover ever-deeper levels of purpose, meaning, and happiness.
Apart from receiving formal education at schools, our children are also entitled to learn the higher spiritual principles that, if practised sincerely and consciously, can shape their lives in the most beautiful ways.
The children’s group is led by Gaurja, a certified EFL teacher, and myself, Namita, serving on the EFL India staff. At the same time as the children meet, a parents’ group is led by Prisha, co-director of Education for Life India.
In the children’s group, we aim at making them learn certain yoga postures coupled with affirmations to develop in them the ability to stay calm and centred in themselves, followed by a little meditation to improve their concentration and in turn help them in their studies and other activities. We also make the children repeat affirmations that will gradually sow seeds of various virtues in them, such as kindness, compassion, friendship, and love. An affirmation is a statement of truth that can have a great impact on our consciousness if said with concentration and energy.
Then we have different games and activities, both indoor and outdoor, for the children depending on their age group. These games and activities are designed in a manner that helps bring out the best in the children, expose their latent talents, and enhance team spirit and harmony. Lastly, we have various home assignments to be practised during the days till our next meeting. These assignments keep them in tune with whatever they learn in the Sunday School.
Sunday School is an impactful space to keep both parents and children in touch with the awareness of inner growth, to share the best practices of teaching and parenting, to strengthen the bonding between parent-parent, parent-child and child-child and ultimately to enhance the level of joy in everything we do.
Two hours every week are spent with five third graders. On my schedule it says I’m supposed to teach them music.
Have I taught music before? Sure! Apart from many individual violin classes, I explored the realm of sound for about 6 years with a previous generation in our school.
We sang long notes and assigned colors to them. We studied repertoire from many inspired music sources in the world. We gave concerts and formed a very nice choir.
Looking back, that one seems easy to me now.
By comparison this one is more difficult.
By comparison? Beware! Never compare!
Why not Sir?
Because by comparing you lose touch with the ability to explore the unique potential of the children that are with you RIGHT NOW!
Thank you Sir.
There we are then, this group, these children…The very thought of not making comparisons already relaxes my heart a little, making it more open and childlike in trying to perceive the music that is waiting to expand in those young minds and bodies.
So…we play the violin together…not bad, many good moments of developing motor skills and sound sensitivity…
Why are some going so much more slowly than others?
Yes, I know Sir, don’t compare.
So, little Mario seems to be in his own world and doesn’t respond when I call him. In fact me calling him signifies an unwelcome intrusion in his private business.
Not really, because I’ve got an idea!
Mario washes the dishes and he does so with remarkable care and calmness.
Then it’s time for composing music.
Composing music? Are you crazy?
Well, this thought from the teachers manual keeps ringing in my mind, always, when I am with children. It says:
Efl teachers find more satisfaction in empowering children to accomplish things than in accomplishing things themselves.
So, Mario, sits at the piano and his job is to find a melody with the white keys, beginning and ending with the central c-key.
I observe him, listen and then try to play for him what I’ve heard, adding some timbre to his melody and a left hand accompaniment.
-Is that what you meant? I play it slowly.
Yes! He sits on my lap and has his hand on my hand that delicately touches the keys.
-What would you like to call it?
I write down the notes for him, then ask him to copy it and glue it on a sheet of white paper where he can make a drawing around it am
and write his name and the title of the composition on it.
My plan is to teach him to sing the melody with the names of the notes and subsequently to find lyrics for this melody, which is quite special, in all its simplicity.
Then it’s Annabel’s turn. With her I have to contain my tendency to intervene with suggestions. She is not satisfied and keeps seeking.
-Do you mean this, Annabel?
And she continues her exploration.
Finally I get to write down what’s she’s come up with.
But as she starts copying the notes she asks me to make a change.
-Can you please not write long notes? I want a merry song!
Empower her Darshan, don’t impose your own love of long notes!
A slow four quarter beat becomes a faster three quarter beat and Annabel has her song. After she’s finished writing the notes, she starts her drawing.
-How about a title?
-I don’t know!
I start making suggestions:
-The merry-go-round…the dance of the goblins…the party of the elves…
None of these satisfy her
I suggest that she ask for a title that night, before falling asleep.
-It might come to you in a dream!
She looks at me with a healthy dose of reserve, like saying: I might try, but it will be following the will within me, not your will.
And then school is over.
The Lila School, an Education for Life School in Slovenia, started in September, 2013. An interview with Tina Rutar, the founder of the school.
EFL: What does it take to get a school started?
Tina: First we contacted the Education for Life headquarters to find out what I could do to educate teachers in this way and start a school with this philosophy. The steps are pretty easy, but it does take persistence. We have a very dedicated group helping manifest this project. It took about two years to manifest this school (Lila).
EFL: How did you begin?
Tina: We began by defining a vision for the school. The next step was to start gathering potential parents. We created a series of public lectures on Education for Life and sent out invitations to our friends, asking them to forward the email to anyone they thought might be interested. We made sure to include a note saying that it was okay to keep forwarding the information.
The next steps included the creation of a Facebook page and a website where we could notify people for upcoming events and information.
We also offered free classes on EFL in schools to teachers. We would meet once a month for four hours of training. These courses included games and philosophy. Our goal was to educate and also to magnetize a teacher for our school. We found our teacher after someone who attended our classes mentioned them to a friend. (We knew that the teacher would be the most important and also the hardest to find.)
When looking for parents, we focused our energy to reaching people interested in yoga, healthy eating, and ecological education. We also contacted preschools which offered special programs such as yoga or vegetarian diet.
EFL: What did you learn from marketing the school?
Tina: We learned that most of our students come from referrals, and that it is very important to meet potential parents as quickly as possible.
We continue to reach out to new parents through events that will interest the types of families we would like to have in our school. One example is our bazaar. We have parents offering their time and skills. One parent gives massages for $5 and donates the money to the school. Students perform dances and skits.
For more information go to http://www.sola-lila.si/. (It will help if you can understand Slovenian.)
- Requirements for Licensing an Education for Life School
The school mission statement must be approved by the EFL International Board of Directors. In addition, the school must receive positive reports at three to five year intervals from onsite visiting teams selected by EFL International verifying that the school’s administrators and teachers are implementing the EFL philosophy to the best of their abilities.
Teachers must be EFL certified or working towards certification through participation in EFL Teacher Development classes. The final EFL Teacher Credential will be awarded after the teacher has demonstrated the ability to implement EFL techniques in the classroom for at least a year. This award is made in collaboration between the school director and EFL International.
The school shall maintain an ongoing relationship with EFL International through annual participation in at least two of the following:
- Attendance at an EFL conference
- Teacher/Administrator visits to another EFL School for observation, consultation, and/or collaboration
- Advanced EFL Teacher Training/In-service and/or Parent Classes taught by an EFL mentor
The school shall pay EFL International an annual fee of $1,000 if 50 or more students are enrolled, or $20/student if attendance is lower than 50.
By Nitai Deranja, President of Education for Life International
Education for Life offers techniques for transforming education into an integral process which harmonizes book learning with direct life experience and instructs students in the art of living. It is based on the deep insight into the potential of every human being: Nurture creativity, intuition and wisdom in every student, tapping into unexplored capabilities or pure potentiality. Education for Life is a system of education that has the same goal as life itself: progressively to become on every level- heart and mind, body and spirit- more balanced, mature, effective, creative, happy, harmonious human beings.
When you visit an Education for Life School, you will find that each classroom seems unique. There is no standardized “look” to the classrooms, no set outward curriculum that each teacher follows, and no fixed style of learning for students. What then, are the distinguishing features of an EFL school? It is the purpose of this pamphlet to highlight the subtle, yet essential factors that define Education for Life and therefore determine the quality and scope of a child’s school experience.
First and foremost, EFL teachers are trained to appreciate that life itself is a school. Throughout our lives, the events that come to us offer a series of lessons that can lead to an ever-deepening sense of personal fulfillment and happiness. Put slightly differently, life continually offers us the opportunity to expand our consciousness. From this perspective the primary goal for the years of formal schooling becomes the development of the skills and attitudes that will help us take full advantage of these life-lessons.
A hallmark of an Education for Life classroom then will be the modeling of a cheerful openness to life and the unexpected lessons that might come our way. Although teachers will bring appropriate lesson plans to class, there will always be a readiness to embrace and make use of whatever special experiences a particular day presents. In the early grades opportunities for growth might present themselves through an unexpected visitor, unusual weather, or a spontaneous incident from the playground. In later years there will be a concerted effort to involve students in the broader streams of life outside the classroom. In every instance, an EFL teacher will strive to help students discern whether their responses to new events produce an expansion or contraction of consciousness. Specifically, the teacher will guide students from reactions of fear toward courage, from judgment toward compassion, from sadness toward joy. In our school’s philosophy this directionality of attitude is referred to as “Progressive Development.”
This focus on the gradual expansion of the student’s consciousness leads naturally to the next essential component of an EFL classroom, a child-centered curriculum. While every school must address the standard topics of modern education, the EFL curriculum will be child-centered in the sense that the teacher looks primarily to the students’ readiness for particular kinds of growth in determining the specific activities that will take place in the classroom. By knowing each student’s interests, talents, and potential, the teacher is able to present the lessons in a manner that maximizes student involvement and progress. Thus while a teacher may work with the same basic material over a period of years (fractions, world history, etc.), each class will manifest a unique expression of the learning process. EFL curriculum categories such as Understanding People, Cooperation, and Wholeness, as well as our small teacher/student ratios, facilitate this approach to learning.
The emphasis on a child-centered curriculum also contributes to a feeling of mutual respect between teacher and student. In paying close attention to individuals, the teacher develops an appreciation for each student’s positive qualities. Children, on the other hand, sense that the teacher is seeking to adapt the learning process to their interests and abilities as opposed to imposing a rigid program of prearranged lessons. In this way teacher and students can partake in the excitement of co-creating the curriculum.
The final characteristic of an EFL classroom is also rooted in the goal of preparing children to find happiness and fulfillment in life. In responding to life’s challenges, we have four primary tools at our disposal: the body, feelings, will, and intellect. The proper development of these “Tools of Maturity” lies at the heart of Education for Life. In our schools we emphasize one of these tools in each 6-year cycle of the child’s growth.
The stage from 0–6 encompasses the “Foundation” or preschool years. During this period the child is primarily occupied with learning to relate to physical realities, especially those of the body. An EFL preschool will promote physical vitality through a healthy diet and generous amounts of exercise, sunlight, and fresh air. Frequent nature outings will be interspersed with activities specifically designed to promote physical agility and coordination. The Foundation Years are also a time for cultivating the physical senses through creating a beautiful classroom environment and involving the children in painting, crafts, music, dance, and other activities that refine the children’s capacities for hearing, seeing, feeling, etc. Storytelling and role-playing are popular venues with this age for sharing initial insights into human behavior. The preschool years also provide an opportune time for cultivating uplifting habits of cleanliness, cooperation, and truthfulness.
The next cycle of growth covers the period from 6-12, the “Feeling” or elementary years. During this stage we shift our emphasis from the body to working with and through the child’s emotions. For a beginning step, children are helped to notice the different kinds of feelings and their varying effects on people. Students learn to appreciate and cultivate the uplifting influences of kindness, cheerfulness, and even- mindedness. Conversely, they can learn to redirect the disturbing energies that produce anger, greed, and jealousy. Techniques for working with these energies include breathing exercises, affirmations, yoga, and meditation. Of crucial importance during these years is the cultivation of the calm, centered state that leads to clear intuition. As their capacity for refined feelings develops, students learn to discriminate between the positive and negative effects of different kinds of activities and environments. Teachers will also utilize feelings as a powerful stimulus for other kinds of learning by emphasizing the awe of nature and scientific exploration, the sense of order and symmetry in mathematics, and especially the encouragement to be gained from the study of inspiring and saintly people.
Properly understood, the “Willful Years” from ages 12-18 present some of the greatest opportunities for the child’s development. Adults can help students avoid the self- involved negativity and rebelliousness that can plague the junior and senior high school years by encouraging positive applications of the will. Realistic, yet challenging goals must be set for these young people; goals that are in accordance with their own higher sensitivities as well as their individual talents and interests. Through faith in their positive potential and consistent adherence to appropriate disciplinary procedures, adults can support the students’ efforts to gradually learn such lessons as perseverance, self-sacrifice, responsibility, and self-control. Classroom applications of this approach will emphasize a “hands-on” style of learning where students can apply their energies to life-like situations. Science projects, debates, service projects and challenges of physical endurance are especially appropriate for this age group. A primary goal of the EFL teacher is to help each student identify and realize individual areas of expertise, thus providing a basis for the healthy development of the will. In an EFL school students of this age are asked to share in the responsibility for financing field trips and other special activities, even to the point of earning part of their tuition.
The final EFL cycle covers the “Thoughtful” or college years from 18-24. During this period the intellect is trained to work in conjunction with the three complementary tools of the body, feelings, and will. Intellectual insights are coordinated with the energy and enthusiasm produced by physical vitality, the intuitive feel for the rightness of an idea that comes from clear, calm feeling, and the ability to overcome obstacles that results from a dynamic application of the will. In this way the intellect becomes an effective tool for gaining the insights needed to lead a productive and fulfilling life.
by J.Donald Walters
The first public service that Paramhansa Yogananda undertook after he became a swami was to found a school for young boys. Starting in 1916 in the village of Dihika, Bengal with only seven students, he was “determined to found a school where young boys could develop to the full stature of manhood.” A year later he moved the school to Ranchi and founded the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidyalaya which is still in existence today. Almost sixty years later, in 1972, at Ananda Village, the first Ananda school was founded, based on the ideals and directions that Yogananda laid out about education. Starting also with only seven students, the original Ananda School now has a campus of seven classrooms with ninety students, plus branch schools in Palo Alto, Portland, and Seattle. The following article is from a talk that J.Donald Walters gave in which he discusses the Education for Life system used in the Ananda Schools.
What I’ve tried to do in my life is to take Yogananda’s central teachings and apply them to many fields of life – business, the arts, relationships, raising families, schools, communities, and so on. The education of children was very dear to Yogananda’s heart, but what he actually said about it was very little. Through the years, we have taken what he has given us, meditated on it, and applied our understanding in the Ananda School classrooms in order to deepen our insights and attunement to Yogananda’s vision for spiritual education.
The purpose of spiritual education is to fulfill the divine potential of children, and to prepare them for life by giving them the tools they need to keep on learning throughout the many experiences that will come to them.At Ananda we are trying to develop a system calledEducation for Life, something which is very much needed in society today. The reason for so many of the problems in our world is that we’re giving children what Yogananda called an essentially atheistic view of life. When we rigorously exclude all spiritual teachings and higher values, our children end up getting the message that there aren’t any higher values, and that there isn’t even a God. Children have a natural longing for values and ideals, but our society gives them a universe and a life in which they have no faith. The cynical teachings of modern education are so ego-oriented, and so money and job-oriented that when children grow up cynical and angry at the universe, it’s hardly something to be surprised at. It’s the fault of our society that allows that kind of thing to happen.
When we speak of spiritual education, we don’t mean a church kind of education. What we mean is to help children understand that they’re going to be a lot happier if they are kind to others, and if they work for high ideals. The child who has a little bag of dates and eats them all himself isn’t nearly so happy as the child who shares those dates with others. In all cases, we can see that people who are selfish just aren’t happy, and people who are selfless are happy. They can apply this understanding not only at school, but also at home and everywhere in life. If we can bring this kind of teaching to children, this then is spiritual education.
Another purpose of spiritual education is to build the person on all levels. We are triune beings composed of body, mind, and soul, and if any part of us is starved at the expense of the others, then we aren’t complete. It’s an interesting fact that people who write, as an example of a mental activity, will very often also do something physical to keep themselves grounded. When Yogananda first had an experience of cosmic consciousness, his guru, Sri Yukteswar, handed him a broom, saying, “Let us sweep the porch.” We have to learn to keep these worlds in harmony with one another. If we let one go in favor of the other, in some way we become unbalanced.
Suppose you have children who have learned how to love everyone, who have learned the goodness of life. When they go out into the world they may face hatred, criminal activity, and many other negative things. Will they be able to handle it? This is probably the primary concern that people have with spiritual education. The answer is to be seen in those who live with love. It isn’t as if they become stupid or lose the ability to relate to the world as it is. In fact, the broadest understanding comes from that which is centered in love; the narrowest understanding is that which is centered in hatred. If you’re on the lowest level, you can relate only to the lowest level; if you’re on the highest level, you can relate to all levels. To see that this is true, we can point to examples of people who live that way and who are able to handle life’s many challenges far, far better. I have observed that people who are complete as human beings are generally more successful. A spiritual education can actually guarantee greater success even in the way worldly people define it.
A good example is Yogananda’s most advanced disciple, Rajarsi Janakananda. He was the chairman of several large companies and owned several others. He had the clarity, calmness, and centeredness to be able to pull back from all the stress and excitement and see the way to resolve difficult issues. The secret of his success was the fact that his consciousness was rooted in God, and in the desire for right action.
Children are born with different inclinations, with different strengths, weaknesses, and educational needs. One of the unfortunate aspects of modern education is the assembly-line approach to teaching where the same information is more or less dumped out to everyone. There isn’t any philosophy; it is just information. Small classes, where the teacher can get to know each child personally, are essential for giving individual attention and for discovering what the natural level of understanding is for each child.
Spiritual education is training people for life. How many people get married, and then get divorced because they don’t know how to get along with their spouse? They’re not educated for that. nor for life.
Education, rightly understood, is expansion of awareness. It is preparation for that process of real learning which takes place after we leave school, when we are in the constant struggle, the battlefield of life. By giving children the tools and understanding to make the right choices in life, we can lead them to lasting happiness. Then they will be able to achieve the kind of spiritual victories that are the true meaning of success.