We've been infusing our studies with the dharma since preschool. Along with trips to Green Gulch Farm Zen Center and Spirit Rock Meditation Center we incorporate gathas, mantras, mindfulness exercises, the Eightfold path, the Brahma Viharas, and the Pāramitās into our studies. We've worked out a pretty elaborate system over the years and it's been a real joy. A. will be six on Thursday and she seems to truly enjoy this aspect of our home studies.
At present, I'm writing a curriculum (based on our home studies) that follows the changing seasons and invites parents to engage in their child's inner-world. Each month, we look at a virtue (compassion, loving-kindness, joy in others, equanimity, patience, generosity, wisdom, etc) and explore how nature is the best teacher. I thought I'd share a bit of our routine here for all of you who are considering homeschooling or wondering how to incorporate your spiritual path into your daily schedule.
We start each day by lighting a candle and making an offering of incense in the kitchen. Then we listen to mantras and cook together. A. sets the table and we eat quietly to set a focused tone for the school-day. She either draws or plays while I clean up -- but not with anything noisy, digital, or electric. I encourage stillness in the morning and have found that the less riled up she is before we start our day, the better.
Next it's Circle Time. We sit on our zafus facing one another in the classroom and start our day with this gatha:
We are the leaves of one tree
We are the waves of one sea
The time has come for us to live as one
After the morning verse, I say a cheery little prayer such as, "Mother Nature, Universe, gods and goddesses, buddhas and bodhisatvas, ancestors, and fairies -- we're calling on all of the energies of the earth to be present in our classroom today... help our hearts grow wise so that we may know peace within and create peace here on the earth. Blessed be, so be it, and let it be so!"
Then I say, "let us enjoy breathing together," ring our little gong, and we sit for a few breaths to focus and really arrive in the classroom. I encourage A. to listen to all of the sounds, feel her breath in her nostrils, and notice all of her feelings. Sometimes we'll lay on our backs with stones on our bellies and watch the stones rise and fall with our breath. Other mornings, I ask her to listen to the gong and raise her hand when the sound has completely vanished.
Next, I invite A. to go to her "Creative Infinity" -- the creative center of our being where the universe comes from. Here, we look for a virtue in the form of an animal totem to "bring back" to the classroom and keep with us all day. Some of A.'s favorites are the Cheetah of Loving-kindness and the Deer of Compassion.
After Creative Infinity comes Sharing Time. We pass a basket of sticks and stones between us - each selecting one as a "talking stick" or a "stillness stone." I invite A. to share anything she wants -- a difficult feeling, a story, or a favorite toy. I usually share the calender and then use the rest of my share to introduce, review, or expand on a dharma or mindfulness unit.
Then it's time for the Main Lesson. For Kindergarten we alternated between Language Arts and Math and I usually used an archetypal story to introduce new letters, words, phonics, numbers, or math concepts (i.e. King Plus and Queen Minus). After drawing the story in her Main Lesson Book, singing the spelling of new words, or marching out the math facts, it's time for a little movement.
One of our favorites is a chant that we've added asanas (yoga poses) to:
Earth my body (mountain pose)
Water my blood (five pointed star pose)
Air my breath (standing prayer/pranam)
And fire my spirit (clap hands and wave them above your head)
Then it's lunch time. While I prepare our food, she has playtime inside. We usually set the table and recently started a new ritual of setting our food down by the kitchen alter for blessings before we eat (that's Saraswati, the goddess of creativity and learning, in the picture frame).
Here's a great little gatha to make lunch more mindful:
Earth who gives to us this food
Sun who makes it ripe and good
Dear Earth, dear Sun
By you we live,
Our loving thanks
To you we give.
After lunch it's outside time. I try to incorporate some Earth Science into our outside time but sometimes A. just plays. After an hour or so, it's back in for an afternoon lesson. I use this time for art, music, dance, yoga, science, or social studies. We alternate through these subjects throughout the week and I'm always amazed at how they integrate so naturally with the morning lesson.
We end each school day with a verse that I found in the Oak Meadow Kindergarten Syllabus. I've expanded it and added yoga poses:
I can be as small as a small, small seed (child's pose)
I can be as tall as a tall, tall tree (tree pose)
As strong as a mountain (mountain pose)
As brave as can be (warrior III)
Because I'm a Goddess (goddess pose)
Can't you see!
One of the greatest things about educating at home is making it personal. Incorporating our spiritual path into our studies with gathas, mantras, and mindfulness exercises has helped us strengthen our connection with one another (and with the earth) and deepened our awareness about the larger context from which our lives emerge. What's more, this holistic method of incorporating core subjects with our spiritual path sets a framework for keeping our minds and hearts integrated. I believe this is a path to cultivating more than intellect... it is a path to a wise heart.