Fall is here and fall break has likely come and gone for many of us. This season often brings a lot of transition for our students. These transitions are embedded in the rhythms of the natural world, the energy around celebrations and holidays, and within the refection and personal goal setting that emerges from the start of each school year.
With this in mind, I invite you to stop for a moment and imagine the experience of a child as he transitions from home to school after just one night, a weekend, or a long holiday.
Maybe you imagined the hustle and bustle as he arrvied- the classroom filled with stories, sharing, reconnection and laughter. Or maybe you imagined the groggy, sleepy child, dragging his feet and resisting the weekday routine. Or even the child emerging from a car ride full of screen time. Maybe you witnessed a child arriving hungry without a proper dinner and/or breakfast. Or a child who is sleep deprived due to long working hours from the previous. Or even a child who is managing some sort of trauma in his life. Regardless, the classroom you imagined was likely flooded with 20+ learners holding varying levels of energy, focus, fuel, and general centeredness. As educators, we recognize the importance of holding space for all those varying energies but for also fostering a culture of centeredness so that all pathways to learning are open.
How do we actively support this transition from home to school each day?
How do we invite a level of awareness or mindfulness for our learners?
How do we foster a sacred intention for learning?
At Rainbow we achieve this through a morning ritual called centering. Ritual is simply defined as a ceremonial act. To that end, our centering practices are ceremonial in nature. During these practices, simple routines are turned into rituals through tone, intention and mindfulness.
First, the hustle and bustle of the morning is calmed and quieted with the ring of a chime or bell. It is amazing how a soft sound can silence a room and even more amazing how silence can invite sacredness into a space. This sound is a reminder to the students that they are about to engage in a sacred ceremony.
Secondly, pausing to take deep breaths together shifts each person’s individual energy into a collective synergy. Then, lighting a candle in silence invites something powerful and even magical into the classroom. This fire also serves as an anchor point for which learners can choose to cast their gaze when reflecting or meditating. Additionally, sending a greeting around the circle or turning to greet a neighbor not only allows each individual to be seen and to be witnessed, but it invites compassion, empathy and mutual respect. Speaking a verse, blessing or word into the circle also supports coherence and connectedness among all class mates. It serves as another reminder that we are on this learning journey together.
These rituals not only help to support the home to school transition, focus each learner, nourish class coherence and synergy, but they remind us that learning is scared.
Rainbow utilizes ritual in other transformative ways; meal blessings, honoring and memorializing people, animals & places, expressions of gratitude and appreciation, blessing ways and other birth and death transitions, rites of passage, communal celebrations all become ceremonial acts.
How can what we do at RCS inspire your own personal or professional work?
Can you replace a daily routine with a ritual by adding a mindful presence to it or by enhancing it with ceremony?
Try creating ritual for your classroom, organization and/or home?
Here is a brief list of simple rituals:
A gratitude exercise, a silent nature walk, quote reflection, a daily song/ verse or blessing, a visualization, read a daily story with a virtue/ moral, draw and/or color a mandala, borrow/adapt a ritual from a particular culture/religion, create nature art, give affirmations to friends and family members, practice mudras, yoga, qigong, or a martial art, and daily journaling.
The school’s founders envisioned a curriculum that taught love and mindfulness, so that the world would become more of these things.
40 years later, we’re doing a two year celebration.
This is because school leaders began shaping their vision for the school in 1977 through parent meetings, gathering ideas, and research. The school opened its doors for the first time in 1978.
This year, in 2017, you’ll begin to see a lot more information about the history of the school, interviews with alumni, and more. In the fall of 2018, we would like to put together a celebration involving all members of our community, both past and present.
Rainbow alumni are invited to the first annual alumni gathering on Friday, Oct. 6th, 2017 from 7-10pm at Rainbow Community School.
We believe that getting the word out about love and mindfulness is so incredibly important. Because of that, we also want to invite you to the More Than Mindfulness Conference.
RCS has an adult education component where we train parents, teachers, and other adults in using holistic education practices, and mindfulness practices. It’s a great opportunity for folks to deeply understand what we are about here at Rainbow, and the larger purpose behind what we are doing.
A culture that is permeated by a materialist philosophy sees the Earth as a commodity- a resource to bought, sold, quantified and controlled. In this view- humans are separate from nature instead of interdependent. Many of the educational methods at Rainbow aim to shift this paradigm by paying homage to the sacred bond between nature and humanity and connecting children to nature on heart and soul level.
Our model and methods have been inspired by educators such as David Sobel. Sobel an educational theorist and author, is most known for his theories on placed based education- in which the local community, culture, landscape, and environment not only become the classroom but also the teachers.
In Sobel’s educational philosophies the natural world plays a central as a teacher. In one of his most famous works, Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education, he explores the learning needs and characteristics of three primary child development stages and likewise, proposes three nature engagement methods. In early childhood, the focus should be on nurturing an empathetic connection towards nature. In middle childhood, nature exploration is emphasized and in early adolescence, stewardship and environmental action takes precedence.
He suggests that this progression not only supports a child’s “biological tendency” to bond with the Earth but fosters “environmentally aware, empowered students” He goes on to state, “if we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the Earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, “the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.”
Sobel’s work aims to connect children on that heart and SOUL level.
At RCS, Nature is not only a classroom for every student but also plays a central role as a teacher. The Natural World is highlighted in RCS’s mission, vision, guiding principles, and our Rainbow Seven Domains educational method. However, school’s out for summer…BUT we invite you to consider nature as a classroom and a teacher.
Summertime for many children means being outside. Summertime often yields many opportunities to deepen our nature connection- longer days, warmer temperatures, trips to new places, nature hikes, water play, gardening, summer camp, the list goes on. In what ways have you and your family engaged with nature? In what ways has it become a classroom or been your teacher? What have you learned in it and from it?
Now consider your own childhood, how did summertime offer opportunities for a nature connection? Through play, adventure, inquiry and expression? What about deep observation, a cultivation of awe and wonder, what about meaningful relationship and veneration? Most importantly, can you remember a spiritual moment that occurred while in the natural world? These moments in nature can have profound and lasting effects on a child. This connection if nurtured, has the capacity to become intimate, empathetic and sacred. Children can begin to see the natural world as a divine teacher. Therefore it becomes our role as parents, friends, family members, and mentors to hold space- to nurture- to foster that intimate, empathetic and sacred bond.
As you and your family make summer plans for time in nature, consider how you may invite “Nature as divine teacher” along. Embark on your adventures, but pack these considerations with you:
How can you approach nature with a robust wonder and awe?
How can you bring a heightened mindful presence to your activities?
How can you make time for deep contemplation and reflection?
A rite of passage is an important, sacred ceremony that highlights a transitional period in a person’s life- often marking the departure from one group in order to enter another. Graduation is one of those rites of passage and is also known as commencement,convocation or invocation.
At Rainbow, it takes on all of these forms but at its core is an invocation- this sacred ceremony serves as an invitation of the spirit, a reverence for deep connection, reflection and transformation. Our RCS graduation is one of many shared celebrations, ceremonies and rites of passage that empower students to turn both inward and outward in order to realize that they are part of an integral community as well as something greater than themselves.
As the ceremony opened, we were welcomed by the Executive Director, Renee Owen. She took a moment to acknowledge some of the RCS commencement traditions that make the ceremony sacred. She first explained that every graduating child speaks at commencement- that each child has an opportunity to share with the community a memory that they want to hold in their hearts as they move through this important transition. Their voices are heard, their memories are honored and their growth and transformation are celebrated by the entire community.
Renee went on to explain another important ritual of this rite of passage- centering. As all things at Rainbow begin with centering- from school days, to meetings, to shared celebrations- so does graduation. Renee noted that the purpose of centering is to help each of us bring a mindful awareness to the present moment. She acknowledged the profound importance of the evening’s events and reminded us that…”there will never be another moment like it ever again.”
Graduation centerings are led by the graduates. Last week at preschool graduation, four eager preschoolers lead the whole community in acts of mindful listening, deep breathing, and a blessing of compassion. Last night, seven confident 8th graders lead centering. It began with the song of the singing bowl to gather everyone’s attention. Jackson, one of our graduates who has been here since first grade, stepped up to the microphone and invited each member of the community to turn to their neighbors to greet one another. Gaby, another graduate, then followed with an invitation to close eyes and reflect on the greeting. The reflection was prompted by these questions-
“Did they look happy?”
“What color were their eyes?”
“How long was their hair?”
“What was their name?”
Lena, then approached the microphone and followed with this quote…”Life is a dance, mindfulness is witnessing that dance.” Jackson furthered explained that, “No one in life will guide you to notice the space you are in, so it is up to you to be mindful of your space and body. Now… reintroduce yourself in a centered space, pay close attention to the entire picture, and ask mindful questions.” Another student reflected, “How did that greeting make you feel this time? What more did you noticed?” Finally Harmony, another student closed the centering by leading the group in a deep, communal breath.
RCS closes this rite of passage each year with a song that has held space in this community- as a gift of appreciation- for decades. Last night, this song was meant as an enduring reminder for all the graduates that they are held, supported and deeply loved by their RCS community. Below are the simple but profound lyrics.
Dear Ones we love you, Dear Ones you helped us to grow,
There’s a circle of light around you, there’s a circle of light in your heart.
There’s a circle of love around you, there’s a circle of love in your heart.
Education is a sacred calling.
Bridging sacred and school is spiritual work.
A strong spiritual identity among teacher and student is the catalyst for this meaningful work.
At Rainbow, we feel that a spiritually nourished child is a child ready to learn. We know, just as students come to school with social and emotional learning needs they also show up with spirits- that are waiting to be nourished. When we intentionally invite the soul into the classroom, then we truly educate for “wholeness” by nurturing the mind, the body and the SPIRIT.
Our daily centering practices serve as one way in which we invite the “soul” in to the classroom. These spirit-honoring centerings begin in preschool and at this stage, these little learners are immersed in a world that is still very magical, mysterious and awe-inspiring. The magic is fed through community centered rituals, mindfulness practices, storytelling, art, drama, music, yoga, dance, and multicultural celebrations.The daily centering practices also provide ample opportunities to nurture empowered learners, foster independence and leadership, and celebrate community.
Recently I joined Lucy and the preschool Dragonflies for centering. On this particular morning Thomas, one of the preschoolers, served as the leader for the centering rituals. He began by asking his class to put on their mindful bodies and their mindful listening ears. He then told them that he would ring the singing bowl and wanted every person to actively and mindfully listen until they could no longer hear the song of the bell and then to raise their hand when its song was gone. He then used a breathing ball and guided his classmates in three deep inhales and exhales. As the ball expanded he said aloud “inhale” and as it contracted he said “exhale.”
Lucy, then invited the preschoolers to join her in a self-affirming morning verse that was paired with sign language. The kids spoke the words with confidence and enthusiasm… “May I be healthy, may I be strong, may I be happy, may I be peaceful.” These affirmations served as inspiration for the rest of centering.
She explained that each person would have the opportunity to choose a kind wish they have for themselves. She showed and read the kind wish cards aloud and asked to kids to be thinking about which one they wanted for themselves today. When the kids were ready to share, they signaled to Lucy by placing their thumbs on their knees. She invited each them to approach the altar which was filled with the kind wish cards, candles and the wishing water. The kids were asked to speak their kind wish and illuminate their “love light” or personal candles.
Much like plants need our care to thrive, our intentions and affirmations need that attention too. To that end, at the close of centering the Lucy explained that she would take the wishing water (filled with their wishes) and send the kind wishes in to the world by watering the plants.
If we feed our body, it can grow. If we feed our mind, it can be stimulated. If we nurture our spirit, it can flourish. What will your spirit honoring practice be today?
Your daily intention or well wish has the capacity to ripple through every aspect of your daily life. What intention or well wish do you have for yourself today?
The goals of meditation can vary from practitioner to practitioner. A practitioner may meditate to calm themselves, regulate emotions or reduce stress. They may also engage in meditation as a strategy for deep reflection, connection or intuiting. In its traditional form, it is practiced by sitting still and focusing on the breath or bodily sensations. This traditional practice shows up in Rainbow classrooms and centering practices but just as the goals of meditation vary, so can the form it takes.
At RCS, meditation takes on many shapes and often engages various learning domains. Creative meditation, for example, is explored through expressive ways such as mindful drawing or writing. Students may also embody a kinesthetic meditation by mindful walking, yoga or interpretive dance. Additionally, solo time communing with or observing nature attends to the natural domain.
Meditation at Rainbow, regardless of form begins by slowing things down, bringing awareness to the body and aligning each activity with the breath. The rituals of a 2nd grade centering often begin with a gentle reminder from their teacher, Eddy, to still their bodies, hold a silence for the candle lighting and three deep communal breaths. Eddy also recognizes the boundless physical, mental and emotional benefits of collective singing and to that end, it too has become part of these cultural rituals. Ultimately, communal singing in this reverent and celebratory way has become a meditation for these students. Simple melodies paired with profound lyrics aim to deepen the already sacred tone, nurture a transcendent experience, strengthen their bond and invite a bit of whimsy.
On this day, once the centering rituals are complete, Eddy begins describing the meditative drawing activity the students will be participating in. He explains that they will be using shapes and forms to create a collaborative sculpture, meditate on it and then draw what they see. He explains that the goal is to bring mindfulness to their observation and their drawing skills.
He invites the students to choose a three-dimensional shape from the tray and then asks them to place their shape on the silk that covers the center of the rug. This communal creation resembles a city of sorts. He prompts the kids by saying “imagine walking through this world. Let your imagination allow it to come alive, look at it from all angles, what do you see, what is around you…meditate on it.” He then rings the singing bell and tells them that when they can no longer hear the song of the bowl that will serve as their signal to begin drawing.
Eddy emphasized to the kids to just… draw what they saw. Those simple words became so freeing for the kids. Those words evoked a sense of autonomy that set the stage for a pure meditation. They were able to fully embrace the practice- free from perfectionism, free from concern for mistake making or being right over wrong. The tone of the classroom settled into a calm inquiry, a collective focus, and a creative meditation.
How can your traditional meditation practice take on a new form? Try something different today? Mindful eating, tea meditation, deep listening, walking meditation…
Make a list of 5 daily activities that you can bring some mindful presence to and take a pause for those each day. Try it for a week. What do you uncover or discover? REFLECT.