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Preschools: An Early Glimpse at Enlightened Society?

by Heather Grimes

Opal and I enter a room that’s flooded with natural light. People are moving about the space in joyful exploration; the room is set up to encourage such artistic curiosity. One corner is arranged to inhabit role-play, another area is filled neatly with books to foster more literary pursuits. There are wooden carvings to create landscapes and still-life scenes. There is a row of easels on the far wall next to dangling, splattered aprons on hooks and boxes of paint. The people welcome us as if they’d been anxiously awaiting our arrival, all greetings and warmth. They share their supplies and immediately support us in whatever creative expression is most appealing to us. They work cheerfully alongside one-another, and us, some in animated teams. A young girl with ringlets tucked behind her ear walks over and takes Opal by the hand.

Every bit of the speed and unbridled intellect that had been surging through my system sloughs off onto the floor like soiled clothes. I feel suddenly compelled to hug people. A tiny reservoir of poetic thoughts and images pools between my ears and I am brazenly aware of my own heart. I long for an old oak tree to curl up beneath for a nurturing rest and some dreams of flamingos and croquet.

This place is as infused with dharma arts as any program I’ve yet attended. It offers as much an example of container principle as any exquisite shrine room. Basic goodness is as obvious for each person in attendance as a live creature sweetly nestled in each of their laps would be. This brand of pure experience is a rarity — one where all effort falls away and we are left standing in a communal shower of one heart.

I am, as it were, talking about a preschool.

So far, I have visited four preschools for Opal and am enjoying the inspections tremendously. I have two more visits on the books and even though we’ve pretty much made our decision, I am becoming quite fond of the effect these drop-ins have on my lungta.

Preschool is back-to-basics at its finest. At the young ages of 2, 3 and 4, creativity and imagination are as much a part of life as breath and sleep. There is much less of a partition between what lies on the outside and what lies on the inside. If a child were not engaging with the world in this way, it would indicate something drastically out of balance.

There is something so remarkable about witnessing a small assembly of these little people — these little hearts and minds — engaging as a community. They are safe from the assault of external distraction, safe from judgment and expectation, and being guided to treat one another with palpable decency.

During a Montessori preschool visit, I observed a class seated in a circle with their teacher encouraging them to talk about how their day was going. She was indirectly ushering them through examples of how to trust one another with what was on their minds.

“Well, Billy kicked me.” One of the kids volunteered, clearly still miffed by the ordeal and eager to tattle.

Billy sat quiet.

The teacher asked, “Would you like to tell Billy how that made you feel?”

The little boy turned to Billy and said, “It hurt.”

The teacher said to Billy, “maybe you’d like to say you’re sorry?”

Billy looked all around the room before landing on the other little boy and saying softly, “I’m sorry.”

Then a few other kiddos talked about their day before they moved on to snack time.

Not perfect, sure, but SO MUCH more straightforward in communication than many of my daily adult interactions are.

Another preschool I visited talked quite a bit about allowing the children to discover the magic in their own worlds, for themselves, which sounded an awful lot like a lesson in drala principle. The teachers at this particular (not Buddhist) school come to class each day with ideas of things to share and discuss, but if there is something else of interest for the children that day, they are more than willing to run with it.

They gave an example from the previous week, where many of the kids spotted a hot air balloon as their parents were dropping them off in the morning. They were brimming with questions: How do the balloons stay afloat? How do they get them up in the sky? And so the teachers and children took a walk to the library and spent the day researching hot air balloons. They even found ways to discuss numbers and science and reading while doing their research.

The teachers promptly received reports back from many parents about how their kids were rupturing with hot air balloon information over dinner that night. Really, what the kids were saying was:  The Phenomenal World spoke to me and I actually had the chance to explore and delight in it on my own terms! When learning is approached in this manner, it becomes a delicious lifelong pursuit.

In a few years, many of these kiddos will have no choice but to be toughened up by the education system at large, by test score requirements and huge classrooms. They may get cell phones and be forced to learn to cope with an onslaught of distraction and information. But for now, the container is small enough to continue to protect their little hearts to a great extent.

Much of what I see being taught in these preschools parallels concepts we spend so much of our time contemplating as Shambhala practitioners: basic goodness, dharma arts and the magic of the phenomenal world. Specific terminology, as well as religious and spiritual affiliation is of little importance. I am heartened by the qualities I see our young, barefaced warriors being steeped in before they are asked to scatter like a congregation of birds into the edgeless panorama that will be their education. And their lives.

~~
Heather Campbell Grimes is full-time mama to a two-year-old diva named Opal. She’s also a part-time massage therapist to a lovely group of elderly ladies. In the gaps, she is a member of the Boulder Shambhala Community and finds perspective on all things — right now, mainly parenting! — through writing. She loves to sew small things, read long books, bake zucchini muffins, shoot photos with actual film and stroll through the neighborhood at a meandering pace with her lovely husband and little girl. You can check out her blog at: thegrimesfamilychronicles.blogspot.com and other writings for Elephant Journal.

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2 responses to “ Preschools: An Early Glimpse at Enlightened Society? ”
  1. Kristine McCutcheon
    Feb 17, 2012
    Reply

    Thanks Heather,

    Will you write another one? Can I reprint this in my local paper?

    Kristine

  2. Linda V. Lewis
    Nov 24, 2011
    Reply

    Sweet! Jesse should follow up with tales of Alaya PreSchool and Vidya!
    Love,
    Linda


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