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Mar 18
International Programs, Mandala Projects, Northeastern States
Aloka Children’s Program Returns to Karme Choling

The brand new Aloka Children's Program logo, designed by Karme Choling staff member Tom Plucinski

Spring is in the air today at Karme Choling, as the snow melts and the sun bears down stronger and warmer than it has in half a year’s time. It is almost reminiscent of the glorious, rich summer days in the Northeast Kingdom, with flowers in bloom, green grass, warmth, and the sound of children’s laughter echoing through the sweet air.

The sound of children’s laughter, indeed. Last summer marked the revival of the Aloka Children’s Program at Karme Choling. The program has existed in various incarnations throughout different eras, and is now back in full swing. Last summer’s Garchen with Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche marked the opening of the program, which was led by head teacher Silvan Erb-Summers, a high school teacher and artist who had been living at Karme Choling for the year as a Mukpo Institute student. Parents coming to do a program were able to bring their children, ages three to fifteen, throughout the summer and have them engaged programming that is based in Shambhala principles, contemplative education, and a holistic perspective on learning.

Working with clay in the Aloka program. Photo by Lynne Findlay.

Working with clay in the Aloka program. Photo by Lynne Findlay.

The program’s rebirth came last winter when sangha member Esther Seibold was visiting Karme Choling and spoke with Director Jane Arthur about the possibility of bringing the program back in a more full-fledged way. Director Arthur pointed her in the direction of Dan Glenn, a staff member with a background in education and strong interest in bringing the Shambhala teachings into the sphere of education. Glenn and Seibold got the ball rolling and by June the program was in place. The program’s original name, given by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, was kept; it means “light” or “luminosity.”

The view of Aloka is that the program gives parents an opportunity to come to Karme Choling to attend a program that they might not otherwise be able to attend, and gives children the opportunity to spend time at this powerful, nurturing land center as well. Aloka’s aim is to plant and water seeds of kindness, compassion, and confidence in children during this dark age when young people desperately need to be nourished in this way. Director Arthur put it quite straightforwardly. “Basically, it’s the future,” she said. “If we’re going to create Shambhala, we have to train the children.”

Children engaged in both structured activities and free play, lots of time outdoors, and began each day with a short period of meditation. “It was a really wonderful opportunity for the children just to be kids, for us to create a space for them to be genuine young people,” said Erb-Summers. “They also had the opportunity to do mindfulness practices similar to what their parents are doing.”

Head teacher Silvan Erb-Summers prepares the children for some fun in the sun. Photo by Lynne Findlay.

Head teacher Silvan Erb-Summers prepares the children for some fun in the sun. Photo by Lynne Findlay.

The Aloka Staff members live at Karme Choling for the summer, practicing meditation and studying the dharma. Contemplative education emphasizes the importance of the teacher or facilitator’s practice; the notion is that by being grounded in one’s own meditation practice and in touch with one’s basic goodness allows a teacher or mentor to be more present and genuine in guiding children toward discovering their own basic goodness, strengthening their own confidence, and expanding their ability to be kind and compassionate to themselves and others. Author and educator Parker Palmer writes, “Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together.” This is the view Aloka takes on working with children.

Marina Back, who grew up in the sangha and worked in Aloka last summer said it was “wonderful to see children coming together in a nurturing environment, really working together and exploring their minds at such a young age.”

The program will enter its sophomore season this summer. For more information or to register, you can visit the Aloka page on the Karme Choling website.

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