Summer is a breeding ground for travel, adventure, and memory making. Its long days, breaks from school and work, flexible schedules also yield down time, rest, and a chance to turn inward and reflect. Having said this, I share with you an inspiring centering activity that you may wish to add to your summer contemplations.
6th grade coins this centering “Return with the Elixir” and it is often used at the close of a thematic unit, calendar year or school year. It invites students to reflect upon and share their knowledge, strengths and gifts with each other and the larger community. The centering also has an intended purpose to inspire empathy, encourage connectedness and recognize the archetypical human experiences across time and cultures.
It begins by asking the students to examine the hero’s journey map paying special attention to the end of the map, where the hero returns home with the elixir. It continues by explaining that in mythology, this is often literally a magic potion or object. Symbolically, it represents a special knowledge or wisdom to share. Review examples from well-known stories such as Wizard of Oz or Star Wars as well as real-life examples such as Buddha or Jesus Christ.
Students are then led in a guided meditation. Asking questions such as…
After the meditation, explain that each student will receive a glass vial in which they will put their elixir. This can be a written word, phrase, or image placed on a piece of paper and sealed in the bottle. They may use colored sand, glitter, small pebbles or shells in the bottle to “activate” the magic of their special elixir. Explain that students will work in silence to create space for reflection, but that they will have a chance to share their elixir with their classmates once everyone has completed the task. Hand each student a bottle or vial. As students receive their bottles, they may find a table set up with art supplies and begin working on their elixir bottles. Allow 15-20 minutes for individual work. One by one, have students place their elixir on a windowsill or other central location to symbolize sharing their elixir with the classroom community. Invite students to share a word, phrase or short anecdote that represents their elixir.
Think about your own quests over the summer. You may be on some sort of Hero’s Journey that was met with challenge, obstacle, success, or joy.
How will you overcome them or savor them?
What lessons, skills or knowledge have you gained along the way?
What elixir will you bring into the world?
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?
- How can you show gratitude?
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.
Circles and Cycles of Gratitude
Imagine being a middle schooler again, arriving on a Friday morning, walking into a darkened, quiet room, joining the rest of your class in a circle on the floor and hearing something like this from your teacher…
Please take a moment to free up your hands, find a comfortable, seated position and bring your awareness to how your body is feeling at this moment. Whatever happened this morning, whatever is running through your mind…let it go.
Tune into your breath. Don’t attempt to change the rhythm, depth or pattern but rather just notice the ups and downs. Now, allow for your breath to lengthen…allow for a pause as you breathe out and back in. Release the stress, obstacles, challenges of the morning with an audible sigh, allow this release to let you unwind and relax.
Now, lets open the centering circle by lighting the candle.
Rituals such as these can be experienced in every RCS classroom on daily basis. They take various forms depending on the age of the students and the culture of the classroom. This sense of mindful reverence is intentionally invited into each circle of students so to pave the way for some deep exploration of self.
A theme of gratitude became the focus of this centering and the wisdom of the words by William Arthur Ward served to guide the student’s inner reflection. This William Arthur Ward quote was read aloud by Omega teacher, Mark Hanf… “Gratitude can turn a common day into a thanksgiving, turn routines jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” Mark followed by talking about the transformative power that gratitude reflections can have on your happiness and shared a personal story about how his own use a gratitude journal has had a profound influence on how he views reality. This idea of “turning a blue day into a new day” by shifting your perspective is backed by a large body of research. This research highlights using gratitude lists or journals to positively impact your mental health and well being. Below are a few articles on the subject.
Harvard Medical School
The remainder of the gratitude centering emphasized refelction. The Omega students took a few minutes to create gratitude lists in their centering journals and then were guided through a reflective practice in which they explored the appreciations that they have for each of their classmates. At RCS we call this a gratitude circle. Our students begin this reflective process in preschool and cycle through it in some form each year. For this particular circle each student wrote their name in the center of a piece of paper and then that paper was passed around the circle while each classmate added an appreciation.
The process felt like a solemn mediation- it was quiet, the students were focused and engaged and then as the papers were returned to their owners something truly beautiful happened- a wave of smiles, grins, giggles emerged. It was pure joy to witness the transformative power of this activity. It is a powerful practice to acknowledge those things you appreciate about yourself but it it can also be incredibly inspiring to hear them from others. Try it! Share an appreciation today!
How can what we do at RCS inspire your own personal or professional work?
Gratitude lists have tangible benefits! Try inviting them into your daily practice- Here are some helpful hints: be specific, be consistent, share your gratitudes, strive to shift your mind set- find the good in the bad.