New Workbooks for our smallest School Children – 22 Oct 16

It is Saturday, the weekend has started and for our school children it is another half day of school before they have the Sunday off tomorrow. On Saturdays, they have less hours of classes and the whole school usually meets for some activity time. They recite poems, sing or do some games and other fun things. Today, we used the time for another great activity: the youngest of our kids, the children of our ‘Nursery’ class got new workbooks!

Oh yes, and you can imagine how happy they were! It is always a joy to distribute anything to our kids but especially when it comes to the smallest, it is an incredible fun to see their eyes shining. It doesn’t matter whether it is something special to eat, a pen or a book – they love it!

Another one who loved this program today a lot was my daughter Apra! She doesn’t have school on Saturdays, so she was here to distribute along with us. A duty which she took very serious! In fact, she always tells that on Saturdays she goes to ‘teach at our school’. When we asked for further details she added ‘Only in the classes downstairs – teaching upstairs is too difficult for me!’

🙂

Neue Arbeitshefte für unsere kleinsten Schulkinder – 22 Okt 16

Es ist Samstag, das Wochenende hat begonnen und für unsere Schulkinder ist es ein weitere halber Schultag, bevor sie dann morgen den Sonntag frei haben. An Samstagen haben sie weniger Unterrichtsstunden und die ganze Schule trifft sich üblicherweise für einige ‚Aktivitätsstunden‘. Sie sagen Gedichte auch, singen oder machen Spiele und andere spaßige Dinge. Heute nutzten wir dir Zeit für eine weitere tolle Aktivität: die Jüngsten unserer Kinder, die Kleinen in der ‚Nursery‘ bekamen neue Arbeitshefte!

Oh ja, und ihr könnt euch vorstellen, wie glücklich sie waren! Es ist immer eine Freude, unseren Kindern irgendetwas auszuteilen, aber besonders wenn es an die Kleinsten geht, ist es eine unglaubliche Freude, das Strahlen in ihren Augen zu sehen. Ganz egal, ob es etwas Besonderes zu Essen, ein Stift oder ein Buch ist – sie lieben es!

Noch jemand, dem das heutige Programm gefallen hat, war meine Tochter Apra! Sie hat Samstags keine Schule, also war sie hier, um mit uns zu verteilen. Eine Aufgabe, die sie sehr ernst nahm! In der Tat sagt sie immer, dass sie Samstags ‚in unserer Schule unterrichten‘ geht. Als wir sie da nach Einzelheiten fragten, fügte sie hinzu ‚Nur in den Klassen unten – oben zu unterrichten ist für mich zu schwierig!‘

🙂

Apra getting used to School Routine – 14 Sep 16

I told you that I already had some stories for you resulting from the fact that Apra now goes to school. She is mastering this big change of her life very well – and loves going to school!

Obviously, the first day was simply exciting for her! After the summer holidays, she was one of two new children in her class. The sessions now already start in April, a few weeks before the big summer holidays – but as we had only decided to send her to this school in June, she was a newcomer. Most of the other kids were not even new to school in this year but already had started their academic career one or two years before! Apra had of course been to our school but I already told you that she had the freedom to leave whenever she wanted – and we were never far away!

So it was a big thing for her to leave us and go to the classroom on her own. On the first day, everything was so new and exciting that she didn’t even get to think of us until we were already back to pick her up. The days that followed however showed us the process of letting go – which obviously has to happen from both sides! Here, however, I again see how great of a choice we have made: the teachers were so professional, lovely and kind with her that it really did not take long for Apra to adjust. Saying goodbye remained difficult for a while but as soon as she was in the classroom, she played, laughed and enjoyed!

By now, Apra marches off towards her classroom happily and waves back with a joyous smile, looking forward to the many fun things she will get to do in school, together with her new friends! They work with clay, they paint, they go to the playground and in between they also learn – English, Hindi and Mathematics.

She comes home with homework and we take out time to do it with her – and the other kids of the Ashram. One table at the restaurant then belongs to this little study group for an hour or two! This has also become a time that our volunteers started sharing with the kids. Young travelers on a budget who want to take part in our retreats and explore India can help us at the restaurant in the evening – and do homework and play with the Ashram boys, Apra and whoever joins them from the kids of our staff. Obviously, after work, there is also fun – and lots of it!

It is lovely to see this development and this new routine. It also means that Apra now has a fixed bedtime – because she has to get out in the morning! Of course that works better on some days than on others but Apra definitely has got used to her routine. And she loves it!

We can see that very clearly when we hear, just like day before yesterday: “Do I have school tomorrow?” “No, it is a holiday.” “Oh noooooooo!” 🙂

Why we needed to change Apra’s School – 12 Sep 16

I just realized that during the time in which I wrote less blog entries, I missed telling you of a very important event which has brought again a big change to our lives: Apra has officially started going to school!

Maybe you remember how I told you last year that Apra had joined our school. With her three and a half years, she was still very small and we had no intention of really sending her that early. We are generally of the opinion that children need the time in that age to play and not sit in school for learning, as it is so often here. However Apra’s Ashram brothers all went to school in the morning and so she also very much wanted to go – and she enjoyed going to the classes where teachers were singing and playing with the kids!

So we let her go and encouraged her, too. Soon however we noticed that it was not as easy as we thought: Apra has her own mind and started wandering in between the classes, sometimes sitting here, sometimes there. The teachers enjoyed playing with the little one – but that was obviously not helping her learn and at the same time disturbed the other classes! And whenever she felt like, she would return back home, walk into our office and declare that she was done with school for the day!

We realized that our school, as much as we wanted her to learn here, would always present exactly this problem: she would not be one among others and home would always be too close! For a certain discipline which she would need to learn in life, she would need distance in between home and school! But what to do? We know that schools in the surrounding all use violence in their daily teaching – something which we would not be able to bear! Did we have any other option?

It was in the last summer holidays that a lady came as a guest to our restaurant who had been working in one school in Mathura that we had only heard about until that point. We had tried to find out where it was but found it difficult online. In our talk with her however, we asked very clearly whether corporal punishment was used there – and heard that it was strictly forbidden! It was music to our ears!

We immediately called and went the next day to visit the school – and were amazed! There, in Mathura, not very far away from our Ashram, we found a place that actually matched our philosophy, where children could learn in playful way, where violence was strictly banned and where there was no pressure on the little ones! Activity classes have more importance and there are lots of playgrounds, sport areas and fields for games on the huge grounds of the school. The teachers whom we met were lovely and the principal’s words explaining their philosophy so much matched our ideas, we immediately paid the advance for Apra’s admission fee!

And that’s how, on 4th July 2016, we walked into the school, Apra in between Ramona and me, in her new school uniform and incredibly proud! Apra and Ramona had made a ‘Schultüte’, which is a German tradition for the first school day, a large cornet with little presents for the child – and after a few hours at school, she was allowed to open it, finding sweets, stickers and a pencil case for the big school girl!

So now we are officially parents of a school girl – and of course I can already tell you some stories of how this has changed our and Apra’s life!

Your Religion is your private Matter, don’t bring it to your Job Interview – 21 Dec 15

Recently we have given a newspaper advertisement in search of a teacher for our school who speaks English fluently, is qualified for teaching and has teaching experience. Unfortunately, we need to say no to a lot of applicants – and interestingly enough, the reason for this is sometimes their religiosity, too.

Most of the times, the people who apply are not at all qualified, skilled or experienced, which is why we have to refuse them. Also, religion is usually not at all a factor of eligibility – or not – for us. We don't usually care if someone is a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jew or decides to pray to the God of pigeons, as long as he or she can teach and is a nice person. There is a limit however and that is reached when we have the impression that the person’s religiosity is going to affect our children.

The first hint is the appearance: there are certain religious signs like a single big strand of hair at the back of the head with men, a red line crossing the whole forehead and some more. A burqa would be another such sign. In some cases it really looked as though the applicant was just going on pilgrimage, visiting several temples instead of applying for the job of a teacher! It is definitely unscientific and somehow also unprofessional.

We actually want to give the children of our school a rational, scientific way of thinking and even ask them not to wear religious signs when they come to school – because we want all people to be humans, not separated into religions. They come for learning, not for praying. So we wouldn't want to have teachers displaying their religion either. It shows that they are themselves fully involved in something we think is irrational – so how would they teach our children?

Further proof of this normally comes up during the talk. One lady for example told that she and her husband had especially moved to Vrindavan due to their love for Krishna. They had left their good jobs behind in order to devote themselves to Krishna in his birthplace. They didn't care much about money but you need to do something to live, so they decided to teach – even though they had no teaching experience or qualification.

When Ramona asked her whether it was only her husband who was religious or she as well, she answered ‘Oh, he is my Laddu Gopal!’ This expression is used for baby Krishna, describing her husband as someone she is devoted to, whom she takes care of and dotes for!

I was walking by in that moment and saw Ramona’s face – priceless!

Jokes aside, when you come for a job interview, don't start preaching please. On the other hand, it just makes it clear that you won't be teaching at our school because we don't want you to pass this to our children. If they should learn this, they wouldn't need to come to school!

No, this approach to life, this attitude and most of all the whole superstition that comes along with religiosity is not what we want for our children!

Why do Indians think Children have to be afraid of their Parents? – 8 Dec 15

The children of our school have started their half-yearly exams. They are super busy learning, excited to get everything right and looking forward to next week, when all exams will be over. While Ramona helped Pranshu, one of the boys living at our Ashram, learning for one day’s exam, she flipped through his notebook and found a question which she couldn’t believe was in the schoolbook: ‘Whom are you most scared of at home?’

It was a question in the subject ‘Moral Values’. This is a subject which we in generally see as helpful and important for our children. It gives them basic ideas of how to deal with each other, our environment and ourselves. There are lessons about being polite and respectful, others about valuing everyone’s work and about how we should solve conflicts in class. The only problem with this subject is that the book as well as the teacher will inevitably add a subjective view on these topics as well – and that may not always be one that I would agree on.

In this case, it was the book that explained in a lesson that everyone at home was important. The grandparents who could tell stories of their time, the parents of whom one or both go to work to earn money and also the children who can help in the house and help the elderly. So far so good. But then there were these questions for the children to explain their own situation: How many members does your family have? Who does the homework in your house?

And ‘Whom are you most scared of at home?’

It shows very clearly that what I have always been writing about the situation in India’s homes is true: there is violence and there is fear. Parents think that their children only listen to them if they are scared. They have to be afraid in order to learn manners and behave. They get beaten if they don’t. And what would be the standard answer to this question? Of course: the father.

The whole day long, mothers, aunts and grandparents will threaten the children of the house: just wait until your father comes home! Or ‘I will tell this to your father!’ with the promise of being punished physically for it.

How would a father ever develop a healthy relationship to his children? He is not there the whole day, working to earn money and when he comes home, he is expected to be the executioner for the day’s punishments! What do you create in the child’s mind?

As a father, I find it horrible and in my family, nobody would even get the idea of saying such a thing to my daughter. Fear is not a concept of education here – but it unfortunately is for most Indian families and thus also in schools.

In our school however, we have now made sure that this question is crossed out of the school book and that teachers also know why: children should not be scared. Their home and their school are safe environments and their parents as well as teachers are those who love them and want to see them happy.

Making School interesting – Workshop for our Teachers – 27 Sep 15

This morning we said goodbye to a group of very nice people from Delhi who had spent the past two days with us. Our friend Sharmila, who is very active in Delhi in the field of education, had been planning on this for a while together with Ramona. Two days ago, they were finally here and sat together with our teachers, who were excited to hear and learn something new.

The three workshop leaders belong to a group called ‘Katha Manch’ and they are specialized on stories. Obviously, it became two days full of beautiful story-telling! Every participant was encouraged to tell his favourite story, one with whom he could deeply connect and that already from his childhood. Of course our visitors from Delhi also told some stories.

More important than the stories themselves however was the way they were being told and the effect these stories have on every person in the room. On the practical example of telling and listening to stories themselves, our teachers were shown clearly how everyone can relate to a good story in some way or the other. They learned how to draw the attention of the children to the story’s characters and their actions, making sure they all will be with the mind at the plot, in the scenery.

By brainstorming in groups, the teachers themselves thought of different activities which they could bring into the class and thus connect the story with their actual curriculum. Theater, painting and drawing, little games, scientific experiments and of course giving the children room to use their fantasy can make all kinds of subjects more interesting, be that mathematics, languages or science!

A point that Ramona found especially important was that these stories can be used to change stereotypes in the minds of children, when for example a woman is able to move heavy stones out of the way or the family father is the one making tea at home. One can show that even the ‘bad’ characters in stories are just human and make mistakes and one can emphasize that a story doesn’t even need to have a certain moral – it can be just an event that can be discussed. We can have different opinions – and children will learn to express them and accept that there is not always just one ‘right way’.

That’s how we had two very full days and our teachers got a whole lot of new ideas on how to create a more interesting, colourful school day by implementing stories into their lessons.

Apart from the official program, it was nice and refreshing to meet new friends, talk about experiences in school and of course have great food together.

Some Children have Difficulty learning – but Violence won’t change that! – 24 Sep 15

Yesterday I told you that many people here in India don’t believe that spanking or an occasional slap in the face is something wrong or bad for your child. Neither at home, not at school. I explained why this attitude is simply wrong. What teachers don’t realize is that teaching and school is about much more than just marks, exams and a written result in figures. It is about raising children to responsible adults that will make valuable parts of our society, country and world. And you won’t succeed with that in an atmosphere of fear!

We all know that we are not all the same. We get born with different genes and everyone has different talents and abilities. This means that some of us have a predisposition to learn quickly and absorb any kind of information without problem. Others however don’t, they need a visual illustration to understand, they need repetition of this information or another context to actually remember.

You won’t be able to help them by scaring and threatening them. By treating the thirty to fifty children in your class with one stick, beating those who cannot repeat word by word what you have taught them. On the contrary, you make them afraid, nervous and focused on the negative consequence instead of what they should be learning. You bring them pain for not remembering what they tried to learn.

It is not the child’s fault! He is not being weak in learning by intention. And it is not a crime to have difficulty learning – hitting children however, is a crime! Don’t you see your failure to teach? Don’t you see that you did not fulfill your duty? It is your job to teach all the children of your class and you just try to beat information into those who don’t manage to take in information as quickly as others.

The best that you can get in this way is a mindless parroting, a senseless repetition of words but not of their meaning. Children will forget them quickly – because you didn’t teach them profoundly, you didn’t show them the value of it. You forced them to learn instead of showing them the beauty of learning. Your violence will create violence in them, aggression up to the point that they will hurt themselves or others.

Much more than anything that they will repeat in tests however, it is important to teach them how to treat another human being, how to discuss peacefully, how to solve conflicts, how to communicate one’s feelings and opinions and how to accept another person’s point of view as well. School is supposed to help children become good humans!

Every single slap breaks your Child a little bit more! – 23 Sep 15

I yesterday told you how unimaginable it was for many teachers to teach without hitting any child. Even the response to our video exposing the cruel violence in a school of Vrindavan showed that many people thought a certain amount of violence is actually good and necessary for raising a child, even if the beating with a stick for no reason at all was too much. It is a thought deeply rooted in Indian society – but it is wrong!

Yes, if students get kicked with feet in school, if they are beaten without having done anything wrong, people say it is wrong. If a student is noisy the whole day and the teacher simply slaps him to make him quiet, people believe it is alright. Our video was too much for them but on the other hand there are much worse videos making shocking news a few times a year. Even cases of serious injury and death have happened. So it is really not that big of an issue – had the teachers not had a stick, had it only been their hands, the video would probably not have even made the news. Why? Because people are just used to it and actually believe it is right.

That’s what they do with their own children as well! They will find any way to justify slapping, to justify violence.

Yes, a slap in the face or, as many parents do with their small children, on the behind, are violence. Dear Indian parents and teachers, as well as any other person in this world who thinks this violence is helpful and necessary for raising and educating children: what you are doing harms your children and students!

You are always an example for those around you, especially the young ones who learn by looking at those around themselves how they do it! This means, you are teaching this violence to them as well. You are teaching them that you, the bigger one, are allowed to hit. The strongest one is the person who can hit and beat.

Obviously, your child will beat his younger siblings. Your elder students will hit the younger ones. This is what you taught them! This means once they are bigger and stronger than you, they can hit you as well, right?

Some people ask us ‘But if two children are fighting, you have to hit them to get them apart!’ What a nonsense! You are hitting in order to show that they should not hit! So you hit the one who is hitting. This means you are the one who is now hitting – who will hit you?

Most of all, you are doing it because you think it is good for your child, right? Scientific research has shown however that it actually harms your child. Yes, if you don’t want to believe me and the argument that you will just continue violence, believe the scientists who found this out! Its development is disturbed and that is no wonder: a child looks up to you and trusts you. Each slap will break the child a bit more and hurt that relation in between you. Yes, this is proven as well.

Understand that it is wrong and act accordingly!

Starting a non-violent School means teaching the Teachers first! – 22 Sep 15

Yesterday I explained you how corporal punishment was a big reason for us to open our own school. We knew that we would only have enough influence on the teachers not to hit children if we were ourselves the administration of the school. Of course, however, there was still effort involved and it was a process to reach the point that we are at now.

So we knew that it is the administration, the principle, the manager, the top people of a school who decide how the school’s students are treated by the teachers. They are the ones who advise how to deal with students. This did not mean however that our teachers automatically followed our idea, agreed with our thoughts or knew how to teach a class without the violence they had been used to practice in their previous schools!

In fact, the general mindset of most people here, including teachers, is that an occasional slap in the face or stroke on the fingers is necessary for children to learn. This is what they learn at home, this is how parents act with their very small children already. This is what children get to know when they go to school and finally there is nobody who tells them otherwise during their studies either. How should they know that there is another way?

We told them. Oh yes, we were probably the very first people for a whole lot of teachers over the course of the years who said such a thing to them. You are not allowed to hit children. Not with a stick, not with a ruler, not with your hands. Don’t make them stand in uncomfortable positions or for extended periods of time. Don’t send them out of the classroom.

For my western readers, most of these will seem just natural because this is what they have experienced in their own school time. Here, however, teachers listen to this, then look at you and ask you ‘So what am I supposed to do if they don’t behave?’

We have actually had to fire several teachers over the course of the years, especially in the beginning, for doing exactly these things they were not supposed to do. It is not difficult to get to know about it: there are enough children who tell about it and the teachers themselves mostly did not deny what they had done – because they didn’t think it was very wrong. But it meant them having to leave from here immediately. Even one slap, which is nothing unusual in other schools, resulted in us having to search for a new teacher. Finally however, the new teachers got to know by the old ones that we were really strict about it.

We still got the questions though: ‘What should I do if a child doesn’t do his or her work?’

And so we started teaching them the basics. You have to treat children with the same respect that you want to get. Talk to them with love. Don’t scream. Focus on their achievements instead of their faults. Give them a chance to explain their bad behavior. Encourage them. Play with the children, make any lesson more interesting by showing examples out of nature or anything that they can touch, see, experience. Make experiments with them and don’t see them as ‘just children’ but as people, human beings, the next generation.

We support our teachers in every way we can to ensure they know the right way, that they have options for creating a loving atmosphere in which it is fun to learn. This is what I believe is missing, apart from a change in the mindset: trainings for teachers to do it differently. To do it right.

We are proud of what we have come and where we have reached. Today we can say for sure that in our school, no child receives any kind of corporal punishment.