I’ve been looking at a lot of schools, and it seems to me that you either get a nurturing environment or you get a strong academic program. You seem to be saying that your school provides both. How is that possible?
So many parents have just the same concern you are expressing. Children want to play and be free to do whatever they want, without any regard or even awareness of the implications for themselves or others. The adults responsible for raising and educating them, however, know that childhood is also a time to learn self-discipline and the many skills needed to take one’s place in an adult world. Parents struggle with this every day. So do teachers.
Be assured, Living Wisdom School is innovative, but we are innovative toward a higher and better academic standard, not away from it. And the very things that attract you to it, the nurturing and supportive atmosphere are, we explained earlier, the key to what makes it better academically as well.
School is challenging for many children. But challenge can also be fun, if the challenge is presented in the right way, and if the children know that the very people who are presenting the challenge will also give them the guidance and support they need to meet it. This is the secret of our success at Living Wisdom School.
Your school sounds great, but what happens when children have to leave there and go into the “real world?”
We are always happy to hear this question because it means you’ve noticed what an unusually fine environment we have created here at Living Wisdom School. And you know that most schools are not like ours. So the fear arises: “Are we raising ‘hothouse children’ that thrive in this environment, but wilt as soon as they are transplanted to any other soil?” It’s a very good question.
The fact is 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.
For at Living Wisdom School we ask much more of the children than most schools do. We take responsibility in the way that parents do: every aspect of the child is attended to. Our highly enriched academic program also includes 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 details are the whole educational system we follow called Education for Life. Visit the website www.edforlife.org for good information on this. It’s much more than we can explain here, but these are some of the keys.
First is the attitude of the teachers toward the children. 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. Sometimes a challenge is necessary, so we don’t hesitate when necessary to be firm, but always in a positive and loving way, in harmony with the deeper nature of the child we are serving.
Starting in the youngest grades, we teach the children how to get along with one another. Harmony and cooperation is an art that can be learned. We help the children understand their own feelings, to express 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, as we put it, “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. The emphasis on the strengths of each child is an important characteristic of the Education for Life classroom. The recognition of children’s talents, whether academic, physical, social, feeling, or character strengths, gives a huge boost to their confidence.
And what’s the result? Children flourish in our environment. And 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.
Whenever we take our classes on field trips, the docents will say, “Who are these children? They ask such good questions and are so attentive to the answers. They are mature and harmonious with one another.” Even the Captain at the fire station said he had never had such thoughtful questions from any other kindergarten class. One museum guide gave us her resume in the hope we could hire her as a teacher!
To be strong in oneself—that is the great gift children receive from Living Wisdom School. They own that, and take it with them whenever they go.
All this sounds good, but what are they actually learning of 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 a highly enriched academic program possible. 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 the children:
- Gain confidence in their own ability to do things they’ve never done before, to absorb new information, to face challenges and solve problems.
- Learns 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 life-long adventure.
- Think creatively, be unafraid to take risks, knowing that failure is often the foundation for ultimate success.
- Go deeply into each subject, to see the interrelationships, view life as a whole picture, not a series of unrelated fragments.
- Achieve one’s highest potential.
How do we do this? In addition to the overall atmosphere described above, they 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. With letter grades, we soon discovered that the focus for the children shifted too easily from what they 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 subjects at hand. Individual assessment more easily brings out each child’s personal best.
Small class size and low student/teacher ratio, 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 that by definition cannot apply uniformly to every child. Why hold back some children or undermine the confidence of those who bloom later? 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 children feel comfortable and have friends of all ages within the school family.
In standardized testing, children from Living Wisdom School usually score in the 90th percentile and above, in all subjects, including math and science.
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, the values and attitudes expressed in what we do.
We help the children cultivate a conscious, inner relationship with God. We pray to “Heavenly Father, Divine Mother, and/or Infinite Spirit within me.” 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 an addition test in math. We help the children learn how to look within for clarity, calmness, and an intuitive understanding of what to do.
They learn to ask for God’s help as easily and naturally as they ask a teacher to guide them. Instead of thinking that they are all alone in this world and have to solve every problem by themselves, they gradually learn that God is their Divine Friend, always there to help them.
An open attitude toward the spiritual side of life makes it easier to talk about the big questions, too, like death, disappointment, the apparent inequality of the world, right attitudes, the need to strive for excellence, kindness, and secrets of happiness.
In classrooms we have altars that display symbols from many of the world’s 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. Everything in its own way can be a source of inspiration.
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.
Our parents tell us that the spirituality their children express is entirely their own. It comes from a wellspring of understanding deep within themselves. It’s encouraged by their experiences at Living Wisdom School, but what they end up with is entirely and uniquely their own.