20 Jun How to deliver a spiritual knowledge to young children
In our endeavors to give our children Krishna consciousness, we should pay attention to the child’s needs according to its temperament, interests, and developmental stage. It’s important to know that young children have sensitive senses, an undeveloped ability to think abstractly, and a great need to physically move and play. Sometimes we act toward children as miniature adults, talk to them philosophically and ask them to be responsible more than they can be. Sometimes we expose young children to sensory stimulation that is too much for them to handle. All of us make these mistakes from time to time, out of ignorance or circumstances. But if we do them regularly, it could be harmful.
We assume that children should accept some content only because it’s Krishna conscious (with our best wishes and for their spiritual wellbeing), but it’s not like that. I remember when my kids were 3-5 years old and could not participate in big kirtans because it was too loud for them. Sitting still in the lectures was impossible because they were restless. My way of parenting was to adjust to their needs instead of pushing them to something too difficult for them. Instead of hearing the lectures in a social setting, I would read and narrate stories about Krishna to them. Instead of participating in loud kirtans, I would softly sing songs about Krishna with them (along with puppets!).
I’ve recently read in a devotee parent’s Facebook group one Mataji asking for advice on what to do with her four-year-old son who got scared watching a depiction of demons in the Little Krishna series. I definitely agree that the visual and sound effects of this series, and most of the others on the internet, are not appropriate for young children. My kids, too, were watching Little Krishna when they were younger until I realized how harmful it is for their health. They were not scared, but my son got too excited and wanted to watch it again and again, up to the point where his sleep got disturbed. Then my husband and I made the best decision ever for the health of our children and the peace in the house – we hid the computer and told the kids it broke down. We both agreed to use the computer only when kids were sleeping. It lasted for 3-4 years until our younger child turned 6. Occasionally they watched TV at my parents’ house when we went there for a visit. And that was the best time of their childhood, full of play and storytelling. Instead of watching Krishna’s lilas on the screen, they brought them into their play. They did not lack content about Krishna, but they were protected from the harmful sensory influences of the screen.
Children are sensitive beings and could be easily scared by things that we adults don’t even notice, like noise, unfamiliar faces, or harsh words. They could feel irritable because of clothes that scratch or tighten, or too many people watching them. Some children are more sensitive than others, but all of them benefit from having protection from overwhelming sensory inputs.
Children are like tender plants that have just sprouted from the soil. If you grow your vegetables or flowers, then you know how important is to protect these sprouts and handle them carefully. If they don’t get enough water they will dry, but if we give them too much water they will rot. The same is with children. They need the life-giving water of Krishna consciousness but in a form that would be easy for them to digest.
If you ask me, the children receive spiritual values the best through listening to the stories (not watching them on the screen). Watching a live puppet show is a great way to present the story, but with gentle sounds of the human voice and acoustic instruments like a flute (without speakers, please!).
Engaging children in some practical service for the festival, for the guests, and for the home Deities is very good for them. The work should be age-appropriate so that the child could accomplish it easily or with a little endeavor. In the case of young children, we should do the job together with the child rather than just give him a task to complete. It is because the children of 0-7 age learn through imitation, and you are there to show them how to work, serve and deal with people and circumstances (not by what you say, but rather by what you DO). Children of this age need our presence and our time. I know, it may be demanding or even exhausting for parents, especially mothers, but it is a justified need of our child that must be met in one way or another.
We all know that young children are like sponges in absorbing the good and bad influences. The world around them is their only reality. They live in NOW and HERE. That’s the reason why children often over-react if their mother leaves them (they think she’s gone forever), or if you take their toy away. The good thing is that you can easily redirect their attention and move them from the place of frustration to something new to explore (well, it works better with a missing toy than with a missing mom!).
Because of this quality of children living here and now, I believe it’s important to find a way to connect their experiences of the world around them with Krishna consciousness. Over the years of my kids growing up, I have created many simple stories about nature, plants, and animals by adding Krishna-conscious elements to them. Through these stories, I would explain to them that all beings find rescue and pleasure in serving Krishna. The magic fairies who rule the seasons are doing it for the pleasure of Krishna and by His order. In children’s imagination, all the things around them are alive and have personality, and this is a wide-open field for us to create meaningful stories that children feel excited about. If the child wants to hear the story again and again and feels inspired to continue the story in his or her free play, it means we got to the point.
Why should we create the new stories if there are already so many great and meaningful stories, both in Vedic and mundane cultural backgrounds? Well, when my kids were preschool age I felt the need to create some stories to help them dive deeper into their experiences of the world and to give a spiritual dimension to it. Young children are thrilled by things they see and feel in nature, in the backyard, on the street, and even in their own house. By giving life to all those exciting things, and by giving them a spiritual purpose, we help children learn and remember the spiritual message on a deeper level. So, I made up stories about the birds and dogs from our backyard, strawberries from our garden, squirrels from the forest we were walking through, and many more creatures that were capturing our attention. When I started homeschooling my children I often felt a need to create a story to deliver a lesson in a more interesting and meaningful way to them. I made up stories about seasons, weather, months of the year, farming work, healing herbs, fruits, animals, math arithmetic operations, senses, colors, work of the people, and things like that. I have to say that I found an idea to teach children through the storytelling in Waldorf pedagogy and over the years I can confirm it’s truly working well for us. It helps children to connect to the subject matter through the feeling, not just by thinking.
Some of these stories I wrote down, some of them my children wrote down, some I wrote in short notes, and some are gone without saving them on paper. I have decided recently to publish these stories and this is my new exciting project to work on in the next couple of months. If you want to read more details about it, and maybe help me in the process, please visit my campaign here https://gogetfunding.com/book-for-krishnas-children/
In conclusion, we need to protect the undeveloped senses of young children by giving them age-appropriate content, spending time with them, and doing things together. The best way of educating young children is through storytelling, practical work (together), and giving them a lot of free play time, and outdoor time in the fresh air and nature. There is no need to rush with academic learning and using technical equipment like cell phones and computers. By our words and example, we should reveal the spiritual dimension of life to our children by connecting the world around us and our practical experiences with the knowledge of Krishna consciousness. In this way, our children can develop a strong basement for their spiritual advancement in the future.