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!

by Susan Usha Dermond

The Flow Learning format provides a template for presenting to groups of every age on any topic. Good presenters and teachers instinctively knows that the audience must be warmed up before being receptive to the information the speaker wishes to communicate. Telling a joke, sharing a personal story, asking students to share one thing they already know about a topic to be addressed…all of these help engage attention and prepare participants for the main ideas of a lecture, class, demonstration, or learning activity. In Flow learning terms, these activities areAwaken Enthusiasm and Focus Attention.

In the field of applied psychology and education much research on perception and attention has occurred in the last fifty years. One of the most recent and entertaining studies went viral and became known as “the gorilla in the room.”  In a summary of research on attention published in Educational Leadership, the common sense conclusion is that  teachers “should use imaginative teaching and management strategies to enhance the development of their students’ adaptable attention processes.”

That sounds like an academic’s description of Flow Learning! First, an engaging activity that brings mind and body awareness to students’ attention, that possibly connects right and left brain and that results in group coherence through a response in unison sets the stage for learning. Because a certain amount of trust and student interest builds over time, a teacher who has an ongoing relationship with a class may not need  this Awaken Enthusiam step. But for a visiting presenter or teacher who does not know a group, beginning with awakening the energy stimulates student expectations and gets the students’ attention.

After an engaging start the group is ready immediately for a Focus Attention activity. In a committee or faculty meeting that might be as simple as asking someone to restate the goal of the meeting and for new items to add to the agenda. For a high school or college class, Focus Attention might take the form of a quick review of new terms or important historical characters which takes the forms of questions all students must answer true or false with thumbs up or thumbs down. Or it might be a video clip or a story.

Awakening enthusiasm and focusing attention, done with sensitivity, result in a state of relaxed alertness that is optimal for learning. Not until this state of relaxed alertness is achieved, is the group ready for the Direct Experience step that will enable learning to happen. Direct Experience may consist of  working in groups, watching a demonstration, role playing, a lecture, or a discussion.

Finally, the unique and expansive contribution of Flow Learning to our understanding of the ideal flow of a learning experience:  Sharing Inspiration. Sharing new insights with others reinforces our understanding and gives an opportunity reinforcement of new learning in the brain. The learning experience is expansive when shared.

This step can take almost an infinite number of forms:

  • For adults:  sharing with a colleague or customer the conclusions reached, writing a summary to be used in a company newsletter.

  • For high school and college students:  giving a presentation to the class, working with a group to apply what is learned, sharing with a partner how one can apply the new insights, or demonstrating mastery on a test.

  • For children:  making a book to share with parents, having one’s work put on a bulletin board, going to a classroom of younger children to demonstrate what has been learned.

This final step of Flow Learning completes the flow of energy from teacher to students to others. By serving as a channel to let the energy and insights keep flowing to others, students benefit by increased power of the flow of energy unblocked.

Aspects of Flow Learning have been touched on by other educators, but not in a way that gives us the idea of a class or lecture as a flow of energy between presenter and participants rather than a passive receiving of information from the presenter.  The name Flow Learning is a fortuitous reminder of the groundbreaking work of a researcher of positive psychology movement, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly.

In his seminal work Flow:  The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihaly describes the ideal state of awareness when one is in the state of flow— a focused state of complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. Flow Learning gives us the framework to structure the classroom experience to best foster that state of awareness in learners.

* ASCD, Educational Leadership, vol 50, no. 4, http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/dec92/vol50/num04/What-Brain-Research-Says-About-Paying-Attention.aspx

by Susan Dermond

Parents love their children and want to give them everything they need to become happy, fulfilled adults. In my thirty-six years of working with parents, I have known many who go to extraordinary lengths to nurture their children.

Perhaps you are one of them. You drive them to lessons, enroll them in camps, and get them to all the practices and games for sports teams. I know parents who do all of this plus take their children camping, to science museums, to Scouts, and to temple, synagogue, or Sunday schools. Many of these children are full of confidence, competence, and joy, but many more of them are stressed out. The least disappointment or unfulfilled desire sends them in a tailspin and they pout, cry, or whine. They get bored easily. Their voices are often high-pitched and anxious, rather than relaxed.

These children need the one thing their loving parents have not given them. They need SILENCE.


In order to have any time at all for her own thoughts, to get in touch with her own feelings, to imagine, to create, a child needs to have quiet times. The inner self needs silence and solitude to develop.

Most religions teach us the necessity of being alone in silence as part of their mystical tradition. In Judaism, this tradition is called hitbodedut, a form of prayer in solitude which leads to self-transcendence. In yoga it is called pratyahara, the interiorization of the mind. Saint Teresa of Avila calls it the Prayer of Quiet, a state in which the soul experiences a quiet, deep and peaceful happiness of the will, without being able to decide precisely what it is, although it can clearly see how it differs from the happiness of the world.”

At the end of a week-long class on Education for Life [TM] I asked the parents to come to the last class with one idea of how they would put these ideas about nurturing the whole child into practice.

One couple had an overactive little daughter. The dad stood up and shared that they realized their child had no quiet time in her life. The parents meditated–before she got up in the morning. They had quiet time after she went to bed. But they now were seeing that their daughter had little peace in her life. All of her waking hours she was either at nursery school or at home with TV or radios on and her parents busily cooking, cleaning, and talking on the phone.

They decided to have silence (or relative silence) on Saturday mornings. They would leave off the music, the news, the entertainment. They would turn the phone OFF, and they would not even talk with each other any more than absolutely necessary. Their interactions with their daughter would include quiet play, concentration games, and conversation. They would give her creative materials and let her draw, cut out, glue, and color.

What a wonderful change in this little girl’s life. If she had this sort of environment every night of the week, she would be a calmer, more relaxed child. For these parents, withdrawing from their busyness even once a week with their daughter would open a door for this child.

It takes a tremendous amount of energy and effort on the part of parents to provide their children with a quiet, peaceful environment in which to develop. It goes against the predominant trend of mainstream society. Yet, not to do so runs the risk of children becoming teenagers who don’t know themselves or what brings them real happiness.

Susan Dermond founded the  Living Wisdom School in Portland, Oregon, and is the author of Calm and Compassionate Children. She writes and speaks about spiritual education and teaches yoga.

Source Citation

Dermond, Susan. 2002. Raising Your Child With Spirit: Eloquence in Silence. Tikkun 17(1): 80.


Supporting Children and Teens in Discovering Life’s Highest Values

This article is excerpted from For Goodness’ Sake: Helping Children and Teens Discover Life’s Higher Values, by Nitai Deranja, founder of the first Living Wisdom School, Nevada City, CA.

It is easy to embrace the idea of nonsectarian spiritual values when we focus on a few key ones: kindness, courage, willingness, self-control, honesty. Who could disagree with the importance of these values or attribute them exclusively to any one religion?

In the joy we feel in helping others, the sense of satisfaction that comes from doing our best, and the peace of mind that results from telling the truth, we experience how much these values improve the quality of life.

As our world grows closer together, we can readily see that these values are part of everyone’s heritage, regardless of religious background, and offer a basis for emphasizing the oneness of the human race. On an individual level, they contribute mightily to a sense of self-worth.

A transforming experience

During my eighth-grade year, I had a chance to experience the transforming effects of one such value: compassion. The end of the school year was approaching but, due to heavy rains, my friends and I couldn’t use the playground. So we began to meet in the boys’ bathroom, a place of relative freedom in a Catholic school run by women.

In our advanced state of boredom, we started matching pennies, a game in which two people flip coins, with the winner keeping both pennies. Soon we were smuggling dice, cards, and poker chips into school. Inevitably, we were discovered and marched to the principal’s office.

After being chastised, we were punished with the loss of two weeks’ lunch recess. Our classroom teacher, Sister St. John, was assigned to supervise our punishment. Since this meant giving up her precious midday break, we expected the worst: sitting in silence for two weeks; writing, “I will not gamble” five thousand times.

Compassion and good will

To our astonishment, Sister said we had the choice of going through some unspecified eighth grade equivalent of “hell,” or something “better.” She then handed out copies of Pitch Black and the Seven Giants, a play with a “reforming” message. We readily chose the play, and thus began two highly enjoyable weeks of rehearsals, capped by a performance for our class.

My friends and I were stunned. What had happened to the punishment? The sense of guilt and shame? The end result was that Sister’s compassion and goodwill succeeded beautifully in lifting us out of a rather dark and negative state of mind.

The experience affected me deeply, and I absorbed the seed-thought that there might be other motivations for being good than fear of punishment.

A Master is not sectarian

This seed began to sprout with my involvement in the first Ananda Living Wisdom School in 1972, which was envisioned as spiritual, non-sectarian, and open to all. But I wondered: “What did ‘non-sectarian’ mean?” My own parochial school experience had left me so distrustful of spiritual indoctrination that I hesitated to share even the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda with the children.

When I took this dilemma to Swami Kriyananda, his answer was brief and to the point: “Nitai, what could be more nonsectarian than a master?” Soon after, I came across an important article by Yogananda:

Educational authorities deem it impossible to teach spiritual principles in public schools because they confuse them with the variety of conflicting forms of religious faiths. But if they concentrate on the universal principles of peace, love, service, tolerance and faith that govern the spiritual life, and devise methods of practically growing such seeds in the fertile soil of the child’s mind, then the imaginary difficulty is dissolved.

Encouraged, I began having classroom discussions on such values as honesty, kindness, and cooperation. We also read books about people who demonstrated these qualities in their lives. The students were developing a good intellectual understanding of the concepts, but, unfortunately, their behavior remained unaffected.

Then a remarkable thing happened. One morning it snowed.

Snow is unusual at Ananda, and I’d have been a complete ogre not to go along with the children’s pleas for a special recess. I stayed inside watching from the window, enjoying the exuberance of their play. However, in a few minutes there was an inadvertent shove, then a wayward snowball, and the whole class was angry with one another. I rang the bell and called the students in.

An impromptu swearing-in ceremony

After a calming-down period, we sat on the carpet for a discussion circle. We had previously been discussing the quality of cooperation, so I said: “Anyone who wants to go back out will have to take a pledge to practice cooperation. If you behave otherwise, you’ll have to come back in.”

We had an impromptu swearing-in ceremony as the students solemnly pledged to cooperate with one another. Back in the playground, there were a few nervous glances in my direction and some overly polite interactions, but gradually everyone settled into wholesome, cooperative play.

Later, when I asked the children which recess they had enjoyed more, every hand quickly went up in favor of the second one. Everyone agreed that the practice of cooperation had made all the difference. If I had any doubts about the power of this incident, they evaporated as I watched the children maintain their cooperation over the ensuing months.

Feeling the effects of behavior

Here was the alternative I had been searching for. First with Sister St. John I had witnessed the transforming effects of her compassion. Now my students had discovered how the quality of cooperation could make their recesses more enjoyable. Clearly, it was direct, personal experience that made it possible for children to appreciate why they should incorporate positive values into daily life.

I began using games, role-playing, and other activities to help them gain their own experience of the different values-to enable them to feel the effects of positive and negative types of behavior. This was the beginning of a non-sectarian, spiritual foundation for the school.

A “service adventure” to Mexico

The humorist P. G. Wodehouse wrote, “There is always a fly in the ointment, a caterpillar in the salad.” In our school the “caterpillar” was puberty.

As the children reached the teenage years, a different approach was needed as restlessness and boredom began to threaten the foundation of good character developed in their younger years. No longer was it enough to learn about values within the confines of the school campus; teens needed more challenging scenarios.

The solution was “service-adventures,” the first of which took us to a Mexican orphanage where the students spent two weeks immersed in a lifestyle completely foreign to them. This new context provided many opportunities for them to renew their appreciation for such qualities as calmness, kindness, and truthfulness. As the trip progressed, their better qualities again began to shine forth.

When we returned, the students had changed in lasting ways. They were more accepting of younger children, more open to adults, and less competitive with one another. With the haze of discontent lifted, here again were the young people I had watched grow up as cheerful, exuberant children. (And who later matured into thoughtful, responsible young adults).

The turbulence of restlessness

For most children, the greatest obstacle to the discovery of values is restlessness. Restlessness can be caused by emotional trauma or an unhealthy diet. But the most common problem is over-stimulation from too much exposure to videos, computer games, music, and TV.

Helping children calm the turbulence of their bodies and minds enables them to develop the sensitivity necessary for an appreciation of values. With children (and adults) the best tools for achieving this are yoga, meditation, and introspection.

One experience stands out in my mind. I was leading a group of teens through a series of calming yoga exercises. One girl, however (the most restless person in the class), seemed untouched by the practices. To help her, I came up with a little experiment.

At the end of the next session, I asked everyone to remain on the floor while I came around to test each one by gently moving an arm or leg. I explained that the flexibility or limpness of a limb would be a good indicator of the student’s level of relaxation.

As I made my way around the room, all the students were relaxed until I came to the girl. When I lifted her leg slightly and then released it, it remained suspended in the air! Somehow she’d never connected the concept of relaxation with a physical sensation. With a little extra help, she finally got the idea.

The words “fairly shine”

Non-sectarian spiritual values are the jewels of human existence-Cheerfulness. Forgiveness. Courage. Even-mindedness. Concentration. Patience. Integrity. Sensitivity. Trust. Cooperation. Sincerity. Will Power. Peace. Compassion. Self-Control. Enthusiasm. Honesty. Love. Joy. The words fairly shine on the printed page.

Working with children has enhanced my appreciation of how these values improve the quality of life for both adults and children. How can anyone overcome difficulties on the job without perseverance? How can parents respond effectively to the needs of their children without empathy? How can a person stay out of debt without self-discipline?

Just as it is crucial to understand the laws of gravity and acceleration before one can become an engineer, so also is it essential to develop qualities like cooperation, cheerfulness, and concentration before one can hope to find success and fulfillment in life. Indeed, these are the qualities that enable one to meet life’s countless challenges.