An Evening of Discussion on Children’s Rights

November 20th is Universal Children’s Day, a day to honor the rights of children. It is also the date in 1989 when the UN General assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Boulder Journey School (BJS) collaborates regularly with Hawkins Centers of Learning to hold evening workshops, open to the community as well as all members of the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP). To learn about and register for upcoming workshops, click here.

This month, in honor of Universal Children’s Day, we held An Evening of Discussion About Children’s Rights.


“I think it is a topic a lot of people don’t think about, including myself. I know people and children are the same, but I think we don’t know how to offer children the space to exercise their rights.” – Kourtney, Denver Public School educator

On Tuesday, November 14, educators from Boulder and Denver gathered in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Room to view The Voices of Children, a short documentary composed of children sharing their lives and experiences through a series of “listening sessions”. The viewing and subsequent dialogue were facilitated by Sam Hall, Member of The Voices of Children Production Team.

The Voices of Children documentary project was initiated by the World Forum Foundation Working Group on Children’s Rights, formed at the 2011 World Forum on Early Childhood Care and Education, in Hawaii, USA. The following year, in Moss, Norway, members of the Working Group, Voices of Children committee, defined their primary goal and the means to achieve it. The goal was to articulate the rights of children worldwide, from the child’s perspective, rather than from the viewpoint of the adult. One means of accomplishing this unique goal was the creation of a video documentary that would capture children’s voices directly, without filtering them through adult interpretations. – From The Voices of Children Documentary Project Background Information Sheet 

 

Following the viewing of the documentary, we engaged in dialogue around the rights of children in our personal contexts and how these contribute to our understanding of children’s contexts around the world.

One of the big questions we examined was the grey area between honoring a child’s right to protection, and honoring a child’s right to participate.

When we protect a child from realities that may seem scary, are we prohibiting them from offering their viewpoints, their understandings, and their solutions to the community?

When we offer children experiences that require their voices, does this take away from the protection of their childhoods?

As a group, we discussed that the answers to these questions lie deeply embedded in the cultural contexts in which the children live.

In the film, we saw children stirring steaming vats of food to be served for meals, cutting branches with machetes, and digging with pickaxes. This is in contrast to the protected experiences many of us from Colorado engage in with children. Three girls from Kenya, who appear to be between the ages of seven and ten, explain to the camera, “The reason kids rush to help and do some of the work, the reason we don’t just sit like this, it is because children cannot just sit while the elderly people work. We can help with everything.”

Photo by The Voices of Children documentary team.

 

Taylor, a Denver-based Early Childhood Education teacher and BJSTEP alumna reflected, “Anyone who works with children knows they don’t want to just sit around. There is a connection between work and feeling a sense of pride. Offering children the opportunity to do meaningful work, not work that we just make up, but work that they can see why it is important, why it matters, helps children in the long run develop a sense of pride in their contributions to the community.”

Elizabeth, a Fort Collins-based educator and BJSTEP alumna built on this reflection, “Do the children who were cooking and contributing feel a stronger sense of ‘I’m a citizen’ than children who are offered arbitrary experiences, such as a teacher ‘letting’ a child clean up all the red blocks?”

We wondered whether children who have to do work feel more a part of the community because they are responsible for the well-being of the community.

We reflected that affluent cultures tend to value protection over participation. Does that shift in values strip children of their sense of self and community, and their sense of responsibility to the communities in which they reside?

We wondered how we, steeped as we are in our own cultures and contexts, might actively seek to move beyond our own biases. There may not be universal answers to these questions. We must seek to listen, just as the documentary team listened to children, to help us honor the rights of children in the contexts and cultures in which they live.

We cannot afford to ignore situations because they make us uncomfortable.

As we drew to a close on the night of the viewing, filled with questions, wondering whether we had said the right things, asked the right questions, or listened intently enough, Gwen, a Boulder-based educator shared, “With all the discussion, I feel that I want answers. I don’t like the questions. I want answers. And what I’ve taken from tonight is that the conversation is where the answers come from. It is valuable just to have the conversation even if it is uncomfortable. I appreciate that.”

 


If you are interested in screening The Voices of Children, please contact Sam Hall at sam.hall@boulderjourneyschool.com for more information. Be sure to include your name, city and country, so we can direct your request to the correct team member.

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Mandalas in the Classroom: How PD Influences Classroom Work

Boulder Journey School classroom teachers, mentors, and interns compose blog posts for the families in each classroom 3 – 5 times weekly. These blog posts offer reflections on daily experiences, question possibilities for future research, and form connections between home-life and school-life.

In a previous blog post, we shared educators’ experiences in a workshop on mandalas. Here we explore classroom work inspired by that workshop.

The following reflections are from a classroom blog post shared with families, composed by Kirsten Zimbelman, Boulder Journey School mentor teacher.

 


Last night I had the opportunity to co-present a workshop on mandalas and their role in mindfulness practice in early learning. We worked with educators from several schools to discuss ways in which we could incorporate this kind of intentional work into our days with young children. Today, we decided to bring our research into our classroom.

Mandalas are best known for their use in the eastern religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. The word mandala is a Sanskrit word, and the literal translation means circle. However, if you break the word into parts its translation can change. Man is the Sanskrit word for mind, while the word da in Sanskrit can be translated as maintenance. So mandala can also mean maintaining the mind.

What does this have to do with preschool? Well, according to research, mindfulness has been linked to children being more positive, having better moods, and increasing their ability to focus. It has also been shown to help children build empathy and connections with peers by helping them process their own feelings. These are both crucial pieces of toddlers’ development, as they, like all of us, are developing their understanding of how their actions affect one another.

We began by looking at images of mandalas composed of natural materials and found various items. We also looked at a mandala built by teachers in our studio.

We discussed the shape of the mandalas as well as the materials used to make the ones in the images.

We offered the children materials such as leaves of varying colors, shapes, and sizes and a collection of man-made loose parts.

We intentionally selected circular boards to offer as a base or frame for the children’s work.

We observed forty uninterrupted minutes of children busily working on their own or collective mandalas.

Tuck, age 2, selected a frame and grape leaves for his work.

Linnea, age 3, added leaves to her composition.

Yana, age 2, and Tuck worked together to build a mixed media mandala.

Throughout the morning, several mandalas were built. Then, in the true spirit of the art, they were wiped clean to begin again.

During their work the children were always in motion; however, the motion was one of focus and intentionality. While we have not yet introduced the word ‘mindfulness’, or the language that accompanies conversations about mindfulness among adults, the children remained focused and engaged throughout the time spent in this endeavor.

“The Mandala is an archetypal image whose occurrence is attested throughout the ages. It signifies the wholeness of the self” ( C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1957, pp. 401 – 402).

In what ways do you observe your children being mindful?

The Art of Mandalas: Mindfulness in the Classroom

Boulder Journey School collaborates regularly with Hawkins Centers of Learning to hold evening workshops, open to the community. To learn about and register for upcoming workshops, click here.

The topic of each workshop varies; however each experience offers time and space to engage in the three phases of Messing About, as proposed by David Hawkins.


In October, 2017, we focused our workshop on mandalas and how the creation of mandalas is tied to the practice of mindfulness. We viewed the construction and deconstruction of a sand mandala from Werner Herzog’s documentary on Buddhism, Wheel of Time.

Participants reflected on the tension they felt as they watched the monks destroy the intricate design. As a group, we reflected on the relationship with work when we intentionally create temporary work. How does temporary work offer us the mindset to focus on the process rather than the product? What are the experiences of temporary artists such as Andy Goldsworthy and Christo?

Together we dove into the traditional definition of a mandala. We took meaning from an interview with the Venerable Khenpo Rinpoche, who explained that ‘mandala’ is made of two words: man, which means mind, and da, which means maintaining. A mandala is a tool for maintaining the mind.

Additionally, the word mandala is sanskrit for circle, which signifies completion.

The Venerable Khenpo Rinpoche explained that everything is circular and completed within the mind – the mind is the source of everything, which when expanded, offers itself as the house of the deity. For this reason, the mandala should be luxurious, “the house of the deity is not a poor house” (The Meaning of Mandala, 2013).

Mandala created by a participant in the workshop.

Although we do not typically associate Buddhist monks with luxuries, this interpretation of mandala offers a space to recognize the luxuries within our own thoughts and creations.

Turning to Western interpretation of mandalas, we explored Carl Jung’s use and subsequent popularization of the mandala in psychology. Jung spent time drawing mandalas every day. He reflected,

“Only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is:

And that is the self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well is harmonious, but which cannot tolerate self-deceptions.

My mandalas were cryptograms concerning the state of the self which were presented to me anew each day” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1957, p. 239).

Mandalas created by a participant in the workshop

 

What is mindfulness? And how are mandalas related?

So why are we, educators, studying mandalas? What role do they play in our lives with children?

Susan Buchalter suggests that the practice of meditation and mindfulness can be aided through the creation of mandalas. She suggests that mandalas offer a tangible focus point for the mind, and as such can be a tool for quieting thoughts during meditation (Mandala Symbolism and Techniques: Innovative Approaches for Professionals, 2013).

And why do we feel it is important to engage in mindfulness?

Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA, shares the following benefits to mindfulness,

“There is a role in mindfulness in parenting [teaching]. Parents need to be conscientious, intentional, and caring in what they do. They need to be present moment to moment, tracking experiences, letting go of judgements, and really being kind and compassionate, having self-compassion…. They also need to be creative, so they aren’t coming to premature conclusions about who a child is and be open to the unfolding of a child” (On The Importance of Mindfulness, 2009).

To explore for ourselves the connections between mandalas and mindfulness, we offered participants the space to participate in the creation of mandalas. We wondered how, in this short timeframe, could we tap into the mindset outlined by Siegel.

Following their experiences creating, the participants reflected on their flow, their concentration, their enchantment with the materials, their personal pride in their work, and their meandering paths of creation.

As facilitators, one thing we noticed was how busy the room was as participants worked. There was never a time that all people were sitting still or quiet. At least one person was always up, looking at other people’s work, or gathering more materials, or even moving to a different space to work.

When we brought this reflection to the group there was some surprise. That had not been felt by the participants, and it clearly had not been a distraction. We thought about the classroom – how busy it can seem to someone not in flow – a teacher or a visitor – and how drastically different that can feel to the child who is deeply engrossed. Would we have ripped that thread of concentration if we had told our participants they were not allowed to move or talk with their neighbors? Do we rip that thread of concentration with children when we ask them to sit still?


 

This workshop, as with most of our Hawkins-inspired professional development, was intended to offer teachers insight into learners through participation in their own learning, rather than to offer teachers specific activities to take into their classrooms.

Look for a future blog post exploring possibilities for incorporating mandala work with young children in the classroom.