Being with children as a mother or a teacher has been my own special path to God. I spent 30 years raising 4 active children, much of that time  at Ananda village. When my youngest child left for college, I began teaching pre-school.

If I had any regrets in raising my children, it was that I was not as firmly established on the spiritual path as I am now. In becoming a preschool teacher, I received a wonderful gift – the opportunity to put into practice everything I have learned as a devotee and a mother, and to serve other people’s children as though they were my own. 

A frustrating month

In the fall of 2004, I felt inspired to take the early childhood education classes that would give me the teaching credential needed to teach preschool. Although I was told there were no openings at Ananda preschool, I knew this was something I needed to do. Three months later, the preschool teacher left unexpectedly and I was called upon to take over her class midyear.

Every day that first month was challenging mainly because I couldn’t get the class calm enough to participate in any activities. There were a few “wild” ones in the group – high energy, strong-willed children whose reluctance to settle down influenced the others.

During “circle time” for example, the children and I would sit in a circle on the floor for the start of various activities. But as soon as we sat down, one or two of them might get up and walk away; or a few of them might start talking and soon everyone would be talking; or someone might poke the child next to him and then chaos would reign. It went on like this day after day.

One day during circle time I became desperate. I knew I was going to lose control of the class if I didn’t find a way to calm their energy. Silently I called on my Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, and asked, “What can I do to make this work?” In that moment I received the inspiration for “Quiet Bodies.”

Getting the children to say “yes”

Quiet Bodies is simply sitting cross legged, with eyes closed and not moving for a few minutes. It’s unusual, however, to think that three and four-year-olds can sit quietly that long. Learning and growth in the preschool years occurs primarily through the body; that’s why young children are so constantly active. The key challenge of those years is learning to control and discipline the body.

In order to get the children to do Quiet Bodies, I needed to create an aura of specialness around the experience; making an activity “magical” and fun gets them to say “yes.” With the children sitting in a circle, I held up “Mr. Blue Jay,” a small hand puppet that sits on two fingers. “Mr. Blue Jay” was very special to them because we used it only for circle time.

So while holding up Mr. Blue Jay I told them what “Mr Blue Jay” wanted them to do (not what I wanted them to do), and that when it was time to open their eyes, “Mr. Blue Jay” would tap each of them on the forehead. From that moment on, Quiet Bodies became a regular part of our daily school activities. Quiet bodies continued to evolve over the course of the school year, but “Mr. Blue Jay” remained a constant. 

I realised soon after, however, that to maintain an atmosphere of calmness during the four hours the children and I were together, I needed to be calmer and more centered myself. Often I became so outwardly engaged with the children that it was difficult to remain in the presence of God.

When I’m not deeply calm, I can’t convey to the children how wonderful it is to sit quietly with their eyes closed. If I can’t still my thoughts and feelings, how can I expect the children to still their bodies? “True teaching is vibrational,” Swami Kriyananda writes. He says that our vibrations change people much more than our words, and that the best way to influence someone else’s behavior is to be strong in those qualities oneself. 

He gives the example of a mother who took her young son to Mahatma Gandhi and asked Gandhi to tell the little boy not to eat so many sweets. Gandhi told her to come back in a week. When the mother returned a week later, and Gandhi told the boy not to eat too many sweets, she asked why he couldn’t have said that a week ago. Gandhi replied “A week ago I was eating sweets myself.”

Staying in the Flow

Strengthening my meditation practice and learning how to work effectively with the preschool children have gone hand in hand. During my child raising years, I often had to put my meditation practice on “hold”. For twenty years I said an affirmation: “I will meditate. I can’t right now but I will meditate”, and it has finally paid off. 

My meditation practice is much stronger now and I can share with the children one of the deepest aspects of the spiritual path – the upliftment and centeredness that come with daily meditation and God-contact. 

When I’m calm and centred, there’s a “flow” that comes; I know when I’m in it and when I’ve stepped out of it. Whenever the children’s energy is “off”, I first check to see if I’m still in the flow. If not, I raise my energy and call on God. The more “out of the flow” I become, the more energy I put into calling on God and surrendering to his guidance in that moment.

When I’m back in the flow and a child misbehaves, I put my aura around the child and use my energy to quiet him or her. Swami Kriyananda says that when he places people in positions of leadership, he expands his consciousness to include them, supporting and strengthening them. I do something similar with the children.

I need to do Quiet Bodies now

Quiet Bodies, however, has been the most important factor in creating an atmosphere of calmness with the preschoolers. Now, when the children sense the need to bring their energy back to centre, they either ask to do Quiet Bodies or start reminding each other that it’s “circle time.”

This even happens outside of school. One child was at the river with his mother and suddenly said, “I need to do Quiet Bodies now.” He sat down with his legs crossed, closed his eyes, and became very still for some time. 

The children are so pleased when they have brought the physical body under control because their souls know this is what they’re supposed to learn at this time. That’s why they enjoy showing that they can do Quiet Bodies. When visiting her grandmother, one child said, “Grandma watch me do Quiet Bodies.” She sat down and showed her grandmother how long she could sit still. 

The children do Quiet Bodies for two minutes at the start of the school year. Toward the end of the year they usually can do it for four to five minutes. By that time I am also encouraging them to listen to the sound of their breathing. I never question them about their inner experience, nor do I encourage time to talk about them. Doing so might make the experience competitive, which would undermine its value.

A time to plant seeds

These preschool years are the time to plant seeds of good habits. Swami Kriyananda writes that children are especially receptive at this age because, “They’re a little closer to where we’ve all come from. They haven’t yet fully taken on a new personality or a new body with its habits.”

Quiet Bodies is a tool that enables children to tap into their soul nature. It gives them the chance to see and feel the effects of their own energy, and to begin to understand the difference between restless, scattered energy and quiet, peaceful energy. It is the first step on the long journey to becoming calm, centered adults.

Hassi Bazan taught at Ananda Village Living Wisdom Preschool for many years. 

When we first met as a new Families for a New Tomorrow (FNT) group in the fall of last year, our families together decided that we want to collect food for those in need. It was really powerful when as families, we spoke about hunger.

To the younger children, we talked about what it meant to feel hungry. They all related to how it felt when they were picked up after school and said ” I’m starving!”

Some of the children wanted to ask all of those who did not have food to come over to their house to eat.

The elder children (7-8 year olds) spoke of actually collecting food.

The children then decorated grocery bags , took them to their classrooms and spoke to their peers about donating food / asking for donations. They seemed really proud to do it, and the teachers supported them as well.

After 2 weeks of food collections- we met again. This time we took out all of the food collected…and the children tried to imaging all of the delicious meals that folks could enjoy …putting the different types of food together. We tried to make sure the food was given in the spirit of love and caring.

Those who could go – went with a few parents and donated the food to the second harvest food bank!

We as an FNT group have done it twice and plan to make it a semi-annual event.

We started the FNT first meeting with Super Conscious Living Exercises followed by chanting Joy, Joy Ever New Joy. Nitai led the meeting. He explained that we can feel joy in the heart by picturing  joy as a balloon that becomes bigger and bigger. Then he led a short meditation. Opening Activity: (~20 minutes)

We played the game “I love my Neighbor.” Everyone stands in a big circle in front of chairs. One person in the middle says “I love my Neighbor because …” for example they have brown shoes.  Everyone with brown shoes stands up and has to go to a different seat. The last person who doesn’t get a seat has to stand in the middle.  This was a fun game to play and was perfect for all ages.

Service Project: ( for the whole family)  (~30 minutes)

 

Indoor Service Project

We meet at the Living Wisdom School in Seattle. Nivritti, the head of our school, provided three different service activities. The younger children stuffed paper bags with a flyer.  They loved doing this activity and were able to finish it in the 20 minutes provided for the project. Older children and adults assembled folders with information about the school. Those who wanted to work outside cleared the driveway of debris and mud with shovels. Many of the kids and parents chose to work outside.

Separate Activities: (for kids/parents)

Kids: Snack time for everyone (~10 minutes) – Each week a different parent volunteers to bring a light healthy snack. This week a parent brought hummus and chips, popcorn, and apples and almond butter.

After snack, the kids went to a classroom to play and were supervised by a parent as well as several older children who were ages 10 and 11.

Parents: Engaged in a discussion. Nitai led a brief guided meditation. He made some suggestions about possible topics to discuss such as:

  • How to deal with temper tantrums
  • How to get kids to help with chores
  • How to get kids involved in the spiritual life

We talked about how to get kids to help with chores. Parents shared some interesting tips that have worked for them. Before the next meeting, one parent will gather topic ideas by email and see what everyone wants to talk about. Children returned to the group.

Nitai ended the gathering by telling everyone an inspirational story. The children asked questions about the story. We assigned a Snack volunteer and a Childcare volunteer for the next meeting.

Closing Circle: We ended by sending out our positive energy to the world.

Families gather together to live these values.

We began the meeting in a circle, singing songs and doing simple yoga/energization exercises that the children were leading. We also played a version of “getting to know your group” game.

Opening activity: (~15 min)

We then read the book “Have You Filled a Bucket Today: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids” and talked about what it means to fill someone’s bucket!

The group was then divided in two groups.  Each group did about 20 min of work around coming up with a team name and other related work. Our service task was to talk about the ideas around collecting food for Second harvest food bank – The two teams brainstormed how they would go about doing this and presented their findings to the larger group.

Children came up with ideas ranging from making posters to going to their classrooms to tell their class about their project.  After about 20 minutes, the larger group came together and children presented their ideas and everyone rated their team performance to rate on how effectively they felt teams worked together and how this can be improved etc.. Service project: ( for the entire family) (~20-40 min)

Separate Activities: (for kids/parents) ~ ( 30-40 min)
Kids: Enjoyed some delicious cupcakes and played in the yard!

Parents: Enjoyed some yummy cake and strawberries and talked about the things we would like this group to do etc. we just chatted about how to talk to kids about this group etc…

Our first FNT service project – collect food for Second Harvest Food Bank.  Children are going to make brochure to be given to their classmates – I have attached the starting template that you can print about 10 copies per child and have them write/draw on them.  Each child should also decorate a grocery bag each to be put in their classrooms for collection.  We agreed to leave the bags there for 2 weeks and bring them to the next meeting so the kids can sort and package them and talk about the experience before one of us drops the collection at the food bank.

  •  3-5 years old- can pick up the bags after collection
  •  6-7 years old can pick up the bags after collection
  • 8-9 years old can pick up the bags after collection

Closing circle: OM and Good Byes!