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Tara Redwood School
FPMT’S CHILD-FOCUSED ACTIVITIES
As you think, so you are. As you dream, so you become. As you create your wishes, so they create you. – Wendy Garrett
This 100 percent works. My children teach me. – Paula, mother of two Tara Redwood School Children
By Amanda Bauscher
In the heart of Soquel Village, California, located on the Pacific Coast south of San Francisco, the old post office stands transformed as the new Elementary Campus of Tara Redwood School (TRS). Tucked away in the forest up the road, the Redwood Campus remains a refuge for Tara’s toddlers and preschoolers. These precious learning sanctuaries serve as epicenters for empowering children to make a positive difference in the lives of their friends, families and communities. By starting with children, who are just developing a sense of self, TRS acts as a “nursery” for the seeds of compassion to spread throughout the world.
Inspired by Lama Yeshe’s vision of “Universal Education,” Tara Redwood School has been developing this vision for more than 25 years by working with children to develop a logical basis for compassion. This begins with an empowered sense of self and critical thinking skills infused with an understanding of the inextricable interconnection of our outer and inner worlds. This unique and profound approach to “understanding one’s own physics, one’s own psychology” gives children the causes and conditions to explore what can bring about positive change in the world in their daily lives, as well as on a more grand and global scale. As children come to understand that our inner world is connected to and can influence our outer world, they come to see the power of their thoughts and feelings.
A classic example of the Tara children’s wisdom came from a mother who’s “road rage” lifted when her three year old introduced a little perspective. Driving home from school she complained, “Ugh! This traffic is terrible!” The child replied from the car seat in back, “Mommy, we ARE the traffic!”
An example of how another Tara student used the drive to school as a study in social psychology and communication was when he noticed the opposite of road rage. His mother was allowing cars to merge and smiles were exchanged, when he coined the term, “car connection.” In this way, TRS children bring their understanding to their everyday lives, transforming ordinary and seemingly mundane experiences like these, laying the foundation for larger visions of benefiting the world.
As the first educational program piloted to develop Universal Education, TRS embodies a wealth of curriculum and training resources from Creating Compassionate Cultures.
The Online Institute for Creating Compassionate Cultures began its inaugural training program this year with an inspiring online community. Some participants are working with foster and orphaned children, creating new possibilities for connecting children around the world who share the wish to be a positive influence in the lives of others. Delighted by the possibility of connecting with the other children in faraway places, one of TRS’s elementary students squealed with delight, “Really? Yes! We should send them some good wishes from our class.” Helpful actions begin with good wishes. All the Tara classes plan and actively engage in several local and global social service projects throughout the year.
Pam Cayton, founder of Tara Redwood School, a pre-school and elementary program near Santa Cruz, California, that “strives to develop the whole child: mental, physical and spiritual,” and Creating Compassionate Cultures (CCC), an organization dedicated to providing tools and training to help educators offer children a deeper, holistic education, shared this news with Mandala:
On Saturday March 22, Tara Redwood School held their annual fundraising auction. Each classroom creates a group art piece to raise money for the scholarship program and the school development fund.
This clock was created by the children in the kindergarten and first grade class. The teacher asked them what message they thought would be helpful for people to live a happy life. This was generated from their discussions and voted on as the message they all wanted to send. Each child drew their self-portrait and their artwork was placed under clear glass jewels, set into a circle around the clock face. This represented the potential we all have to bring those jewel-like qualities into every moment, affecting ourselves, our friends, family and communities, thus making this world a happier, more peaceful planet and home for all! The classroom projects are always the most popular items for parents to bid on and this is a wonderful example of one of them.
The classroom projects are also a great representation of the Creating Compassionate Cultures organization and curriculum, which officially launched their Online Institute for Creating Compassionate Cultures (OICCC) on March 31. The Online Institute offers a 12-course online certification course to educators and anyone interested in learning the CCC curriculum and its methodology – the Seven Steps to Knowledge, Strength and Compassion, the theoretical basis that helps the curriculum develop a child’s natural ethics, wisdom and compassion.
Creating Compassionate Cultures invites parents, teachers, psychologists, counselors and coaches to explore the Online Institute for Creating Compassionate Cultures (OICCC).
Mandala brings you news of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and of activities, teachings and events from over 160 FPMT centers, projects and services around the globe. If you like what you read on Mandala, consider becoming a Friend of FPMT, which supports our work.
PRACTICING DHARMA IN DAILY LIFE
By Pam Cayton
There are countless meditation possibilities to do with children. However, one needs to consider the child’s age and interest. These meditation practices below have been practiced at Tara Redwood School, but can be adapted to various settings and for all age groups.
In more recent years, mindfulness practices have become very popular and have now entered into mainstream society in the fields of health care, business, and more recently, schools. Research validates what practitioners for hundreds of years have found, that is, meditation benefits the body and mind.
Tara Redwood School teaches several different levels and types of meditation. In general, they can be divided into three main categories:
- Centering (i.e., focus on the breath)
- Reflection (i.e., analytical thinking)
This article will focus on the first kind of meditation, the category we call Centering. The sound of the gong signals that it is time to center. We at Tara Redwood School begin classes each day by gathering in a circle. At the beginning of the day, a child whose turn it is that day, chooses a Morning Intention. The child makes up her own intention or may choose the intention from helpful emotion cards or stones with words written on them. The intention card is placed on the altar or it may be written on a sentence strip and hung on the wall as a reminder throughout the day.
Alternatively, the class uses a sand mandala that is the symbolic representation of the classroom and the intention can be written down and placed in a bowl in the mandala’s center. Each of the children in the class may then take a colored stone and state what way they can make that wish come true throughout the day and then place it in the bowl. When everyone has placed their “wishing stone” in the bowl, it is placed in a prominent place as a reminder of what everyone is creating together.
The teacher rings the gong periodically throughout the day. Every time the gong sounds, the children stop what they are doing, stretch their hands up above their heads as they breath in and bring their hands back down to their heart level as they breath out. They then focus on their breath coming and going for three cycles and remember their morning intention. The gong used in this way regulates the energy and sets the rhythm for the day. The children are naturally practicing the art of centering and regulating their energy. It takes time to accustom the children to the practice and it is an excellent training for the teacher as well: the class and the teacher are all practicing self-regulation together.
A practice we have done with children ages 5 to 10 is an adaptation from a Thich Nhat Hahn practice. Each child is given a blue square of felt and a white square of felt. They are given 3 to 10 white beans or stones. (It is important to consider the simplicity of materials so as not to draw the focus away from the breath.)
These are placed on the white felt in front of them. When the gong is rung, children close their eyes and focus on their inhalation and exhalation. At the completion of one cycle, they move one bean from the white square to the blue square. White beans begin on the white felt because, just as is with our breath, we don’t really take notice it is there until we focus on it. However, it becomes very noticeable with attention, just like the white beans on the blue square.
Once the children are able to focus their attention for 3 to 10 breaths, depending on how many they started using, they can continue to add a bean a day. This becomes a wonderful way for the children to practice and continue to extend their concentration. Children can make little purses or containers for keeping their beans and felt together. This adds a special element of care and respect to the materials and practice.
We recommend helping your child create a little shrine or altar. At Tara Redwood School, we call this the Peace Place. The bean purse can be kept there as well as a little gong and various other items that symbolize peace for the child. The child can use this space as their own precious place to have some time alone, center, contemplate, resolve conflicts, regulate their emotions or simply find solace in silence.
Pam Cayton has worked since 1989 to create, implement and research strategies for awakening compassion, wisdom and social responsibility in the minds and hearts of children. Her projects include Tara Redwood School, a school for young children in California, and Creating Compassionate Cultures, an organization dedicated to providing trainings and materials to support holistic education for children based off of Essential Education principles.
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One of the hallmarks of Buddhism is that you can’t say that everybody should do this, everybody should be like that; it depends on the individual.
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