The #1 Question Parents Ask About Living Wisdom School

Kindergarten teacher Suryani Nelson talks with her students before the End of Year Ceremony in Spring 2023 at Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto, CA
Kindergarten teacher Suryani Nelson talks with her students before the End of Year Ceremony in Spring 2023 at Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto, CA.

By Helen Purcell, Director
Living Wisdom School of Palo Alto

Living Wisdom School director Helen purcell
Helen Purcell

Confronted with the whole-child curriculum at Living Wisdom School, parents often wonder if getting to know each child individually and helping them develop their unique strengths may waste time that could be better spent on academics.

The short answer is that in the fifty years since the first Living Wisdom School opened its doors, we have found that the exact opposite is true: that learning becomes far more efficient when we bring the whole child into the process.

Here are some of the reasons this is so.

  1. Many schools today operate under a mandate to “teach to the test.” But a one-size-fits-all, rigidly scheduled curriculum leaves perhaps a third of the students challenged appropriately, while a third find themselves struggling, and another third are under-challenged and bored. Large, impersonal classes and a rigid curriculum leave a significant portion of the students frustrated or idle, creating a breeding ground for discipline problems and disengagement, both of which interfere with learning.
  2. When we teach the children individually, each at his or her own level of ability and pace, school becomes a place where the children can enjoy success experiences every day. As they realize that they are understood and that they are able to succeed, they begin to enjoy their schoolwork and become enthusiastically engaged. A happy fringe benefit is that discipline problems virtually disappear.
  3. In a Living Wisdom classroom, the teacher’s first priority is to gain a deep understanding of the individual child, so that they will be able to guide the child appropriately, according to their unique learning styles, interests, and abilities.

A classroom where each child experiences the joy of overcoming challenges and succeeding every day becomes an engaging learning environment for all. It is why visitors to our school are amazed to see children of every age, from kindergarten to eighth grade, enjoyably absorbed in their schoolwork. They see students of all ages working together in small groups, not bored or inciting each other to mischief, but happily engaged in what they are doing, because they find joy in accepting challenges that they stand a good chance of mastering.

  1. There is no bullying at Living Wisdom School. From the first day of kindergarten until they graduate, the teachers are continuously monitoring the children’s interactions. When they observe contractive behaviors, they immediately step in. The teachers are experienced in helping children resolve their conflicts realistically and harmoniously. A school and classroom environment where each child feels safe, acknowledged, and loved is a wholesome incubator for learning.
  2. We approach learning in a spirit of joyous adventure and discovery. We hold high values and are eager to expose the children to academics in ways that they can individually relate to, and that will inspire and engage them for all their lives. We approach books and media by carefully unpacking the positive, uplifting messages behind whatever human suffering is described. We avoid those that offer a cynical response to life.

 An All-Round Education Engages the Whole Child

Parents sometimes ask: “While it seems wonderful to address all sides of a child’s nature at school, doesn’t it place their future success at risk?”

There seems to be a widespread assumption today that school should be only for the brain, and that everything else should be set aside during school hours and addressed elsewhere. This assumption holds that if we focus on training the children’s brains, we can assume that they will be happy and successful at some future point in their lives, after they have acquired financial security, material goods, and social status. But a strong and growing body of evidence, which we will discuss shortly, has clearly shown that the opposite is true – that happy people are much more likely to be successful in whatever they attempt.

The Five Dimensions of a Child

We humans have been gifted with five instruments through which we can perceive and interact with the world: body, feelings, will, mind, and soul. Science today is increasingly discovering how these five instruments are inextricably linked, and how a deficiency or malfunction in one is bound to compromise the healthy functioning of the others. For example, researchers have found that the brain and heart function more efficiently in the presence of calm, harmonious, expansive feelings such as love, kindness, and compassion. When the Institute of Heartmath taught heart-harmonizing methods to students in a Washington, DC public school, their test scores improved significantly. Many similar findings are described in our book Happiness & Success at School: A Magnificent Synergy.

Let us consider some simple examples.

Body

When the body is unwell, we feel less able and eager to attack our challenges, because the supply of energy to our brain, willpower, and feelings is diminished. Conversely, when the body is healthy, we feel wonderful, and we have abundant energy and enthusiasm to greet our life’s tests.

Feeling

Similarly, if our feelings are compromised – if we are sad, depressed, resentful, or feel unrecognized and unloved – we will be less able to bring our full energy, enthusiasm, and willingness to meet our challenges.

Will Power

If our will power is compromised, due to a lack of strong desire, confidence, or proper training, we will be unable to bring our full energy and volition to our activities.

Mind and Soul

In fifty-plus years in the Living Wisdom Schools, we have seen that children who are healthy, happy, cheerful, enthusiastic, confident, focused, and strong-minded are best equipped to learn at the peak of their individual ability.

Each Child Is Unique: We Must Teach to the Individual

Our philosophy of education is based on an understanding that every child is unique. Each child brings an individual blend of strengths to school that demand appropriate consideration – as the following stories illustrate.

There was a boy in the original Living Wisdom School who had an uncanny, almost intuitive gift for understanding how tools and machinery worked. Unfortunately, he was little interested in the standard school curriculum. Instead of forcing him to learn in a way that was alien and unpalatable to him, the teachers worked with his strengths. They created learning challenges that engaged his mechanical skills and his interest in learning how things worked. As a result, he began to have a happier experience of school.

When he realized that the teachers understood him, and that they were on his side, he was open and receptive when they introduced him to math problems and other lessons that were related to his interests. The boy grew up to be a highly paid, in-demand metalworker and welder.

Middle school teacher Gary McSweeney helps a student with math.
The keys to learning and academic engagement at Living Wisdom School are individual instruction, and challenging each student daily at his/her own level. In math class, the teachers and math aides review every problem with the students to ensure that they understand fundamental concepts and are not simply “studying to the test.”

A young girl in our school dreaded math class, because she associated it with many past failures. Year after year at her former school she had fallen hopelessly behind in math.

When she came to LWS, the teachers worked with her at her own level. Very carefully, they gave her math lessons and assignments that she stood a good chance of “winning.” In this way, math gradually became associated with positive experiences. In the compassionate, loving school environment, her classmates celebrated her successes. She spent so much time working on math with her teacher and the math aides that her book became frayed at the edges and looked very “lived-in.”

Her story has a happy ending – while she didn’t become a world-class mathematician, she was successful in a college major where math was a strong prerequisite: genetics. Best of all, she gained tremendous self-confidence from having defeated the math bogeyman and conquering her fears in a way that was fun, engaging, and personally rewarding.

How Do Our Graduates Perform After They Leave Our School?

A strong proof of our methods is how our students fare in high school, college, and career. Before we look at some broad trends, here are two recent anecdotal examples.

<em>Living Wisdom School graduate Hadley Sheppard earned a PhD in Genetics and works for a major scientific database firm in London, UK.</em>
Living Wisdom School graduate Hadley Sheppard earned a PhD in Genetics and works for an international genetics database firm in London, UK.

One of our graduates, Krishav Gandhi, is now a senior in our Living Wisdom High School. We recently learned that Krishav qualified as a semifinalist for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Just 1% of high school seniors achieve National Merit semifinalist status. Of this group, 95% will attain finalist standing, and half will receive a National Merit Scholarship.

In spring 2023, another graduating senior in our high school scored a perfect 1600 on her college boards. To understand what this says about the quality of instruction and guidance at the school, of the 7 million college-bound high school seniors who take the SATs annually, just one in every 7,000 (0.1%) scores a perfect 1600.

Are these rare exceptions? Of course. Perhaps a better measure of our approach is our graduates’ average high school GPA, which hovers around 3.85. Also worth noting are our graduates’ successes in college and beyond. (See the links below.)

But first, an explanation is in order. Unlike many schools today, we are not focused on training our students to “test and forget” what they learn. We are intent on giving them a solid foundation in the knowledge and problem-solving strengths to find solutions and be competent and successful in high school, college, career, and life. We discover and nurture their unique talents and enthusiasms, and we show them how to bring their best to everything they do. The result is that they do very well when they leave us.

The “Disaster Factor” in Schools Today

In most schools today, the total lack of instruction in life skills has resulted in an epidemic of disconnection, alienation, estrangement, sadness, loneliness, and bitterness – with the unfortunate result that many young people feel deeply betrayed and lash out in rebellion through drugs, violence, cynicism, and self-harm.

The problem is too serious to be lightly dismissed – “Oh well, young people have always managed to land on their feet – life will be their teacher!” Even if our children are not inclined to rebel – how will it help them to keep daily company with those who are?

Rather than toss the dice with our children’s future, it is our strong conviction that we should do everything in our power to offer them a better way.

When we started our schools a little more than 50 years ago, we realized that the solution to the deficiencies of modern “deaducation” was actually close at hand. The question we needed to address was not “How can we force our children to get good grades so that they will be happy and successful in some misty distant future, after they have achieved wealth and status?”

Instead, the questions we asked – and answered – were:

  • “How can we work with our students, by understanding their unique skills and what motivates them individually?”
  • “Once we have gotten to know them, how can we give them the wisdom, maturity, and life skills to be happy and highly successful now, so that they will stand an excellent chance of succeeding at every stage of their lives?”

Education Reform – Baby Steps at the University Level

At America’s elite universities, a new movement has begun to acknowledge the problems in education, and to take tentative steps toward finding solutions.

  • At Yale, students can now take a course called Life Worth Living.
  • Notre Dame offers students a course called God and the Good Life.
  • Harvard offers an online course called Managing Happiness. The in-person version of the course has been astonishingly successful.

Harvard’s Positive Psychology 1504, taught by Professor Tal Ben-Shahar Ph.D., will enter the books as the most popular course in the history of Harvard University.

In the spring of 2006, over 1400 Harvard students enrolled in both Positive Psychology 1504 and Ben-Shahar’s Psychology of Leadership course.

Positive Psychology 1504 consists of 22 lectures lasting around 75 minutes each, with a guest lecture on humor by Harvard graduate and professor Shawn Achor [author of the bestselling book The Happiness Advantage]. The course’s focus is on the psychological aspects of life fulfillment and examines empathy, friendship, love, achievement, creativity, spirituality, happiness, and humor. (From positivepsychology.com.)

  • At Stanford, Fred Luskin and Carole Pertofsky teach a happiness course that they created in response to a number of student suicides.

It’s gratifying to see that neuroscientists, social scientists, psychologists, and educators have begun to understand how vitally important happiness is to success in school, career, and life.

But when we view these developments against the backdrop of history, we find that the principles have been known for a very long time.

Ancient Principles for Success & Happiness

Wise people in all ages have given us the keys to a happy, successful life. The first principle is that happiness increases when we live “expansively” – that is, when we use our five human instruments of body, heart, will, mind, and soul in ways that bring us greater health, love, strength, wisdom, and joy, instead of their opposites.

This is our goal for the children at Living Wisdom School – to create an environment where they can thrive in each of the five dimensions of their being.

While academics are an extremely important part of a child’s life arsenal, researchers at America’s great universities are finding that people who are happy, healthy, emotionally stable, mentally focused, and strong-willed are most likely to succeed at school.

Former second grade teacher Kshama Kellogg helps a boy understand a math problem.
Happiness and academics go hand in hand at Living Wisdom School. Former second grade teacher Kshama Kellogg helps Milan understand a math problem. (Kshama is now the director of Living Wisdom High School of Palo Alto.)

A pioneer in the field is Shawn Achor, mentioned earlier as a guest lecturer in Harvard’s Positive Psychology 1504 course. Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, forever changed how we understand the link between happiness and success.

As a graduate student at Harvard, Achor served as a proctor, a role that required him to have hundreds of conversations with incoming freshmen over cups of Starbucks coffee.

Achor soon noticed a surprising difference between the students who thrived and those who struggled. The most successful Harvard freshmen were not, as he had expected, the ones who buried themselves in the library stacks, determined to grind out good grades. They were the students who were happiest and who were most socially engaged. They were enthusiastic. They formed study groups, asked questions, and approached their studies in a spirit of joyous discovery.

Achor’s research revolutionized how he understood the relationship between success and happiness. It seems that our traditional assumptions are wrong. Happiness is not something we can expect to enjoy after we have gained a measure of financial security and status. Instead, the people who are most likely to succeed in life are those who know how to be happily engaged in the present moments of their lives. Achor now consults with corporations to help them create happy success cultures at work.

What Stanford and Harvard Can Learn from Living Wisdom School

While these findings are promising, it is worth noting that the first Living Wisdom School predated the present faint stirrings by a century.

On March 22, 1917, a young monk in India named Swami Yogananda started a school for boys. In his book, Autobiography of a Yogi, published in 1946, he wrote:

“The ideal of an all-sided education for youth had always been close to my heart. I saw clearly the arid results of ordinary instruction, aimed only at the development of body and intellect. Moral and spiritual values, without whose appreciation no man can approach happiness, were yet lacking in the formal curriculum. I determined to found a school where young boys could develop to the full stature of manhood. My first step in that direction was made with seven children at Dihika, a small country site in Bengal.

A generous land grant from a private donor enabled Yogananda to transfer the school to Ranchi, Bihar, where it flourished beyond expectations.

At the end of the first year at Ranchi, applications for admission reached two thousand. But the school, which at that time was solely residential, could accommodate only about one hundred. Instruction for day students was soon added.

Yogananda called his institution a “How to Live School.” Central to the curriculum were skills that enabled the students to be happy and successful. He taught them to meditate and to cultivate positive, inclusive attitudes – life skills that, a century later, are exerting a powerful appeal for unprecedented numbers of Harvard students.

When Yogananda came to America in 1920, he started a second How to Live School, but it failed – not because the children were unhappy, but as he put it, because parents in the 1920s weren’t prepared for his ideas. India had offered more fertile soil, in a culture where instruction in the art of happiness is considered an indispensable part of a well-rounded education.

Fifty-four years later, in 1971, an American disciple of Yogananda’s, Swami Kriyananda, started a How to Live School in Nevada City, California. The school flourished, because the time was right. The first school has since spawned other schools in America, Europe, and India, under a new name, Living Wisdom Schools, and a new philosophical banner, Education for Life.

Education for Life in Action

A shining example of the way we incorporate an Education for Life in the curriculum is our annual all-school Theater Magic performance, where each student plays a role in producing a professional-quality theater event based on the life of a great soul who has blessed the earth by his or her presence.

Subjects of past Theater Magic productions have included the Dalai Lama, Joan of Arc, the goddess Quan Yin, Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Moses, Rabiah (a famous Indian woman saint), Martin Luther King, Jr., St. Francis, George Washington Carver, St. Bernadette of Lourdes, and botanist Luther Burbank.

Students act in a play about the life of renowned botanist Luther Burbank at Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto.
Theater participation teaches priceless lessons in self-confidence, projection, concentration, and cooperation, among many other important life skills. A scene from the Spring 2023 Theater Magic production, on the life of the renowned American botanist Luther Burbank.

In twenty-two years of plays, we have found theater to be a powerful medium for bringing history to life in a personally engaging way that stays with the students.

It has been inspiring to witness how the students benefit personally. Theater not only teaches them vivid lessons in history, geography, political science, literature, music, and dance – it offers them opportunities to develop high-value life skills. The children learn to take responsibility and use good judgment, and they develop skills in self-confidence, leadership, cooperation, self-control, and perseverance.

They learn to project their presence through their voice and bearing, and to speak clearly while being respectful of their listeners – for example, waiting for the laughter or applause to fade before resuming their spoken lines.

Teacher Suryani Nelson's kindergarten students take a bow after the 2023 Theater Magic production at Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto, CA.
Teacher Suryani Nelson’s kindergarten students take a bow after the 2023 Theater Magic production at Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto, CA.

They learn breathing and self-regulation methods to calm feelings of fear or over-excitement. They experience the fulfillment of supporting each other through the challenges of preparing and performing. Finally, they experience the rich satisfaction and pride of pulling together a project of profound beauty, meaning, and inspiration. The plays draw rave reviews from parents and guests.

We should not forget to mention the many lessons they learn about the joys of cooperation and social engagement.

This is Character Development at its finest. By portraying exemplary lives, history becomes both real and inspiring. Many of our graduates have told us how the skills they developed through Theater Magic helped them be successful in high school, college, and career.

The experience of mounting an event of deep significance every year from kindergarten to graduation is unique in education today. It is a perfect example of how life skills and the academic curriculum can, and should, be melded together.

“What kind of education enables people to be happy and successful throughout their lives, and not just in some far-off, imagined better future?”

The research is clear, and it is growing: people who know how to be happy and successful in the present are more likely to be successful in every moment of their lives.

The Curriculum at Living Wisdom School

 

The keys to academic engagement at Living Wisdom School are individual instruction, and challenging each student daily at their own level. Former middle-school teacher Gary McSweeney helps an eight-grader with a math assignment.

by Nitai Deranja, Co-Founder of Education for Life and the Living Wisdom Schools

A question parents often ask us is: “What is the curriculum like in the Living Wisdom Schools?”

I believe a better question would be, “How does Education for Life improve upon the curriculum that has been offered in schools for at least the last hundred years?”

We are living in an age that values mass production and standardization. It’s a way of thinking that began with the Industrial Revolution, when factory owners realized that they could produce goods in mass quantities much more efficiently by adopting assembly-line manufacturing methods.

The new approach worked well for making cars, refrigerators, and other products. So well, in fact, that when government officials met with leading educators to decide upon the best way to prepare workers for the prosperous new manufacturing age, they decided that schools should be operated as efficient, standardized assembly lines for educating factory workers, engineers, and business leaders.

Teachers, too, came to be seen as assembly line workers, tasked with repeating a fixed set of lessons that would move the “product” – the students – efficiently through the system. To facilitate the process, the teachers’ tasks were detailed in curriculum frameworks under which public schools were required to operate – and still do today.

Nitai Deranja, founder of the first Living Wisdom School
Nitai Deranja, Co-Founder of Education for Life and the Living Wisdom Schools

The problem with this approach is that children are not cars. Anyone who spends time with children quickly realizes that each child is unique, with highly individual gifts and enthusiasms, and that attempts to standardize their education will, at best, be stifling.

Instead of cultivating a rich flowering of creative talents that could prepare the children to be successful and help solve the problems besetting our planet today, we now graduate students who excel at memorizing just enough material to pass the standardized tests.

Education for Life pursues an entirely different approach. It shifts the emphasis from a fixed series of rigidly prescribed lessons, to address the interests, enthusiasms, and ever-changing needs of the individual student.

Education for Life requires that the teachers form a close bond with each child, so that they will be able to identify the child’s unique gifts and devise an individualized approach to the curriculum that will build on the child’s natural enthusiasm, while giving them daily experiences of mastery at their level.

Education for Life in Action

I’ll share a brief example. A parent reported that her four-year-old boy wept bitterly every morning as she prepared to bring him to school. In a conference with his teacher, the mother noted that her son had expressed a strong interest in music.

The parents and the teacher decided to create a music unit for the boy. The following day, the boy’s tears vanished, as he realized that school was a place where his needs would be recognized and supported. Encouraged to express his enthusiasm for music, he soon began to find joy in other aspects of the curriculum and school activities as well.

Does Individual Attention Fuel Academic Excellence?

Parents often question whether devoting time to individual attention doesn’t somehow steal energy from the academic subjects. But the EFL teachers have found the exact opposite to be true.

Consider our graduates’ high school grades – see Happiness, Success, and Education for Life: Grades Tell the Story.” Consider also the following sampling of test scores from our high school.

Living Wisdom High School Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) Score Averages 2004-2021

LWHS Average National Average Above National Average
Language Arts 640 533 +20%
Mathematics 608 527 +15%
Total 1248 1060 +18%

We additionally assess our high school students’ progress using the Iowa Test of Educational Development. Over the past two years, our students have shown an average gain of 14 percentile points in comparison to other students their age.

In an Education for Life Classroom, Discipline Problems Are Few

Because the children feel individually supported and engaged, there is an atmosphere of intense, sincere enthusiasm for the curriculum. Thus discipline problems virtually disappear, and the instruction is far more efficient than in a classroom with a standardized, lockstep curriculum.

A New Vision for the Curriculum

In Education for Life, we have re-named the traditional subjects to emphasize their relationship to the students’ personal interests. Instead of dividing them into seemingly unrelated silos of History, Language Arts, Science, English, etc., EFL arranges the same subjects under broad titles that emphasize the interconnectedness of knowledge.

For an in-depth discussion of the six curriculum areas, I invite you to browse “The Curriculum,” from Education for Life, the book on which our schools’ philosophy is based. A brief summary:

1. “Our Earth – Our Universe”

“The Sciences” conjures images of test tubes in a laboratory rather than the wonders of nature. “Our Earth – Our Universe” covers everything now taught under “the sciences,” but includes a suggestion of the orderliness of the universe; an appreciation for the ecological balance of planetary life; and a sense of awe before the universal mysteries, which, as Einstein said, is the essence of great scientific discovery.

“Our Earth – Our Universe” includes physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, general science, botany, geology, and anatomy.

2. Personal Development

Personal Development nurtures each child’s growth in three areas: physical, mental, and spiritual. Personal Development fosters the students’ ability to set and achieve personal goals, as well as personal qualities of perseverance, self-control, and joyful self-discipline. Subjects that foster growth in Personal Development:

Physical education Sports
Health and hygiene Mental skills such as concentration, memory development and organization
Mathematics computation skills Beginning reading skills
Spelling Any subject matter involving memorization
Long-term projects Learning new tasks such as handwriting, CPR, typing, etc.
Developing and using positive qualities such as gratitude, contentment, honesty, servicefulness, and responsibility. (This list could be unending.)

3. Self-Expression and Communication

This category includes, for example, mathematics and grammar, both of which can help the students develop mental clarity. Also included are subjects such as how to develop creativity, and how to be differently creative in a variety of fields. Subjects might include those listed below, as well as instruction in how to develop more mundane but perennially useful skills such as carpentry, or salesmanship. Subjects that foster growth in Self-expression and Communication:

Mathematics Writing mechanics
Creative writing Interpretive dance
Music composition Music interpretation
Computer programming Creative problem solving
Engineering The use of the voice as a means of self-expression in singing and speaking
Public speaking How to develop creativity
Visual arts Drama
Vocabulary development

4. Understanding People

“Understanding People” encourages personal expansion through opening ourselves to learn about the experiences and perspectives of others. A primary focus is on learning about what human beings everywhere want most deeply from life, and what leads to lasting happiness for oneself and others. Subjects that foster growth in Understanding People include:

The study of other cultures, their customs and beliefs Foreign languages
History Geography
Psychology World religions
The study of the lives of great people Travel to other locations

5. Cooperation

“Cooperation” encourages personal expansion by learning how to cultivate harmonious relations with others. The children are given many opportunities to practice the attitudes and skills that contribute to an experience of interpersonal harmony – for example, mental flexibility, a willingness to compromise, and respect for other people’s realities. Subjects that foster growth in Cooperation:

The human realities of political science, economics and business Supportive leadership
Listening skills Etiquette
Historical people and events in which cooperation played an important part

6. Wholeness

Fourth- and fifth-grade teacher Craig Kellogg helps a student during a rehearsal of the annual all-school Theater Magic play at Living Wisdom School.

This curriculum area focuses not on a single aspect of personal or academic development, but on the many ways the various areas work together, each enhancing the development of the whole. Subjects that foster growth in Wholeness:

Music Meditation and other centering techniques
Art Literature
Philosophy Religion
Nature studies

The Curriculum as a Cornerstone of an Education for Life

Education for Life is deeply concerned with helping each student find purpose and meaning during their time at school, and in their later lives. Thus the teachers are granted the freedom to introduce each curriculum category in a way that will help the individual student make a personal connection to the subject.

In Education for Life, our goal for the curriculum is not to dictate what must happen in the classroom during every hour of every day of the school year, but to provide an outline that allows the teachers and students to create a unique school experience that will enrich each child with wisdom, enthusiasm, engagement, proud accomplishment, and joy.

In the first fifty years of the Living Wisdom Schools, we have found that this approach produces excellent results, more efficiently and effectively than the older assembly-line system.

A Conversation with Lilavati Aguilar, 2nd Grade Teacher and Early Education Advisor

Q: You taught kindergarten for five years at Living Wisdom School. Now you’re teaching second grade, and you have many of the same children in your class that you taught in kindergarten. What qualities do you see in them that they’ve brought over from kindergarten, and that have helped them personally and in their school work?

Lilavati: It’s been fun to see how they’ve matured, and how they’ve grown in the behaviors and attitudes we teach all the kids as part of our Education for Life approach.

At Living Wisdom we start giving the children important life skills from the get-go. To give you an example, I taught the kindergarteners basic meditation practices that helped them be calm and focused. And now, in second grade, I’m impressed by how far they’ve come. Of course, it isn’t like we’re meditating for half an hour, but we’ll sit for five minutes, and maybe by the end of the year we’ll meditate for 10 minutes occasionally, and that’s doing very well at their age.

But you asked about the skills that help them do well in school, and the ability to be calm, focused, and cheerful is definitely an important one.

I find that they are able to bring the busy energy of the classroom into a calm, open, sensitive space by practicing the simple meditation tools we give them – I  can feel the energy in the room rise to a more calm, receptive, focused level.

When a child first comes to the school, there’s a brief transition, but they quickly pick up on the quality of the energy here, and the focused time we spend doing our breathing exercises helps them get acclimated.

The middle schoolers do a set of energization exercises for gaining control of the energy in the body as an aid for learning to be calm, focused, and energized at will. Last year, the thought occurred to me that the second graders have such calm energy, and maybe they would benefit from the exercises. So, I began teaching them halfway through the year. This year I introduced them at the start, and it’s been inspiring to see what the kids can do. In kindergarten, they learned about will power, and how they can be aware of their energy. These are important life skills, because they help us be energetic, self-controlled, calm, and centered, but open to the ideas and realities of others.

Our teachers talk often about the energy in the classroom, and the children understand what we mean. The students in my class are seven and eight, and if we aren’t careful, their energy can go all over. But we’ll do some energization, and it’s surprising how quickly their energy and attention gets focused, present, happy, and calm.

We start the day with these practices, just before math, and I find that their energy and attention carries over very directly into academics, and how they’re able to work with good energy, enthusiasm, and concentration. When they run into a difficult math problem, they know how to get very concentrated and work through it. A child will say, “I don’t know how to do this one – it’s too hard.” And I’ll say, “Okay, great, I’m glad it’s hard for you, because now you get to practice your will power. Remember how you focus your attention and use your will power when you energize? Now you can use it and see if you can work on the math problem.”

They know what we’re talking about, because it’s something they’ve experienced with their body and breath, so it’s real to them, and they know how helpful it is.

These are things we teach in the early grades as a foundation for learning to be successful in school and in their interactions with people, including their friends and teachers.

As they start the school day, these practices help them be happy and engaged, and they look forward to the breathing, meditation, and energization.

Q: What kind of meditation do you teach them?

Lilavati: We keep it simple. We work with the breath. That’s another big concept, learning to work with your breathing to calm yourself and get more focused, happy energy.

I tell them to take a big breath and exhale slowly and relax. Big breath – relax. I’ll say, “Now just let your breath flow normally and naturally and notice when your breath goes in and out.” So we take big breaths at the start, and then we notice our breathing.

We have to remind them not to control the breath. It helps them to touch two fingers together as the breath comes in.

After watching the breath for a while, I’ll ask them to close their eyes and listen and report what they hear. They’ll hear birds, traffic, and so on, and because they’re sharing aloud, they pay close attention.

After a few days of this, we’ll bring our attention closer to our bodies. I’ll say, “Can you hear your breathing? Can you hear your heart beating?” It isn’t easy to hear your heartbeat, but they’ll get very, very focused, and sometimes they’ll hear their heartbeat, or other body sounds. They might say, “I think I hear blood flowing,” because they know a little bit about the body from science class.

Next, we’ll put a hand on our heart, and I’ll say, “If you can’t hear your heart, can you feel it?” There’s something about concentrating on the physical body that captures their attention, because it’s a close experience, and we do lots of teaching by giving them their own direct experiences.

Q: Do you talk about the feelings of the heart?

Lilavati: That’s the next level. After a day or two of feeling the heartbeat, we’ll keep a hand on the heart, and I’ll say, “Now think of a time when you felt really safe and loved. Maybe you were hugging your mom or your dad. Maybe you were hugging your cat. Can you sit there and just feel love?”

We’ll picture the feeling, and we’ll keep the feeling of love and expand it. I’ll say, “See if you can have that feeling of love as it goes all around the classroom. See if you can make it go bigger and go all around the school, all the way to your mom and dad, wherever they are, and maybe all the way around the planet.”

We’ll do these heart work exercises, and maybe I’ll say, “Remember a time when you felt lots of happiness, or when you felt joy. Where were you? Try to picture it clearly.” And then we’ll fill the classroom with joy, and the school, and so forth.

So, we’re expanding and extending from something that they’ve experienced and are familiar with, and it’s always based on an experience, and not just talking abstractly about these things.

Q: Some years ago, when I observed in your kindergarten classroom, I noticed a feeling of harmony and an amazing focus that struck me as quite a miracle, at that age.

Lilavati: They are very engaged, even at age four to six. We have visitors coming through the school, because families will visit, or there will be researchers who are interested in the school and want to observe. So, the children are used to having people come in and out, and they might look up and notice, okay, there’s a visitor, but right away they’ll return to what they’re doing.

Q: A former kindergarten teacher here said that she spent the first three months helping the children learn how to behave in the classroom – how to be aware of the other kids, what was proper behavior, how to say certain things, how to listen, and how to treat people. For example, how to ask for things, because you don’t just grab, but you ask for it, and here are the words you can use to ask for what you want.

She said that after the first three months, which required a lot of her energy and attention, it was much easier, because they knew. And what they learned is valuable at any age because we have to be aware— “Oh, here’s how I can say this,” and respect the other person’s realities. We’re making those decisions all the time in a civilized society, and we’re evaluating what we can say to another person, and how to restrain ourselves to give that person space to talk. And it sounds like Civilization 101 starts in kindergarten at Living Wisdom School.

Lilavati: Exactly so, because yes, you do need to teach them these things. We also talk about “using your big voice,” so that you can be an advocate for yourself when you have a need.

You have to be able to stand up for yourself, but at the same time you need to be aware of the other person and their needs. It can take a lifetime to perfect these skills, but it starts in kindergarten, and we give them the words to be able to move around in the world together with other people.

If a child comes up and says, “Lilavati, they took my toy!” we don’t solve the problem for them, but we give them the skills to problem-solve it on their own.

The first question I’ll ask is, “So how did you like it?” Did you like it? “No.” And the way they respond tells you a lot. If they’re quiet and withdrawn and it’s “no,” you might have to help them get their energy bigger before they go and try to problem-solve. But if they’re ready to go over and clobber the other person, you’ll need to help them calm down with some deep breathing, and they’ll learn to take a big breath before they go over and talk about it.

Q: It sounds like you’re creating a happy atmosphere for academics, too. Meditation gives you focus, energization gives you energy, and learning right behavior, and learning at their own pace gives them happiness. You’re giving them skills to find their way around in the world, and I’m guessing that it helps when they’re learning new things.

Partner reading (discussed at end of the conversation). Eighth-grader Tima Steuck and transitional kindergartner Anika Rao share an exciting story. Click the image for larger view.

Lilavati: Yes, it’s true, absolutely. Absorption and focus and paying attention and being enthusiastic, and maybe having little victories every day. Those all start in kindergarten. And, again, I would take it back to how we are always talking about energy. We’re always watching to see, first, what their energy is like. Are they rambunctious and over the top and unable to focus? Then you’ll need to do some calming things like breathing and meditation. Or are they tired and checked-out and uninterested? Then you’ll need to help them lift their energy, maybe by doing the “awake and ready” exercise.

As a teacher, you constantly have to be aware and carefully notice what’s going on with them.

At Living Wisdom, the bonds between the children and the teachers are unusually close, because they are based, first, on the small class size, but also, primarily on the teachers’ deep awareness that they have to cultivate a bond with each child so that they can get to know them at a deep level and adjust the curriculum and guidance to the exact needs of the child on a daily basis.

By getting to know the child at a deep level, we are very clearly aware that one child will need to breathe and get calm and have quiet time, where another child might need the opposite.

When you have those connections, the students are much more open to receive what you’re asking or telling them. If they feel seen and understood and you ask them to stop doing something, they’ll listen. But if there is no bond, and there’s a feeling that the teacher is just saying what she wants, then there’s a feeling that it doesn’t have anything to do with them and their needs, and why should I want it, too?

So, it’s extremely important, and it’s amazing how the kids will develop deep bonds with all of their teachers over the years, and with the whole school, so that they feel safe and able to calm down and take in information because they’re feeling understood.

So, yes, having those connections with the teachers and the other students helps their success in academics big-time. To give you an example, we hear about schools where the students are afraid to speak up in class or talk to their teacher about a problem they’re having in their life, because the classes are large and the focus is on mass education, and there’s no time or energy to individualize the curriculum.

Imagine the effect it would have on whether you would want to study or express your enthusiasm, if you were in an atmosphere where there was much less warmth and love, and more fear. It’s an amazing gift for children to be in this environment and this atmosphere where they feel safe, connected, and understood.

When I worked in public schools, I saw how many kids got lost, and how they had to push for their needs, and how they could get selfish as a result. Whereas at Living Wisdom, it’s so open and expansive that the kids are willing to help each other, because we are a close family, in truth. When there are misunderstandings, it’s unique here in how we’re able to work with them because of those bonds.

There were two little boys in my class who were very good friends, but one of them made a bad decision one day and said some mean words to his friend. We immediately stopped and talked about it, and I asked the little boy who’d gone over the top with his language, “Well, how do you think so-and-so felt when you said that?”

From having worked with his friends this way over the years, and being used to the vocabulary, he was able to think about it and say from the heart, “I think I hurt him. I think that was hurtful.”

When I asked him what he would say, he turned to his friend and said, “I’m so sorry.” And it wasn’t the halfhearted kind of “I’m sorry” where the teacher is making you say it. It was where they could both feel that it was genuine.

For lots of kids today, their lives can be very compartmentalized, and even fractured. But here it’s a whole-person kind of experience for them.

Q: I have to say that the atmosphere in the school feels like there’s a lot of friendship going around.

Lilavati: Some days they’ll get up on the wrong side of the bed, but when they come in you can see them relax because they know how to ask for help, and they can say, “I’m having a terrible morning,” and know that they’ll get help, and sometimes it will be from the teachers, but sometimes it’s from the other students who are understanding and kind.

Q: I saw it happen in third grade when a little girl was having problems and Kshama immediately noticed and started talking to her, and several kids came over, and a little girl made faces at her friend to make her smile.

Lilavati: Yes, exactly, and then each of them will come in with their own interests and passions, and they are validated, because our curriculum is flexible enough that if we see a passion for outer space or dinosaurs, we can support it and adjust the curriculum to include it. It goes back to knowing the students and having a bond, so that we can see how to help them go a little farther with what’s interesting to them.

We learn about their strengths early in their time here, and we figure out what makes them happy and how we can adjust the curriculum to give them what they need to know, in a context that will work for them. “Wow, I love dinosaurs.” They’ll share their love for dinosaurs with the class, and we’ll all learn. We feel it’s very important for each child to be able to express their special enthusiasms, because it carries over into their academic subjects and makes them happy learners and happy people.

Of course, there will be a feeling of, “Okay, this stuff I find incredibly interesting, and this stuff I don’t like so much, but I can use my will power to get through it.”

Q: Is math a big one, since people tend to be either into math or not.

Lilavati: They usually like math!

Q: Really? Have you figured out a way to work with children who aren’t math-talented? In one of the books about Living Wisdom School, Happiness & Success at School, there’s a chapter about a famous math educator at Stanford who found that math instruction needs to be highly individualized so that those who aren’t advanced can take small steps and be enthusiastic about their daily victories, so that they begin to enjoy math.

Lilavati: That’s our approach. We are always watching to see where they are individually, and we adjust the curriculum for them accordingly. There was a little girl who would just sit and draw pictures during math class, and now she’s in second grade and very proud of how well she’s doing in math, and she’s getting ahead of everyone else. It took time, but because we were able to support her and help her work at her own level, she was able to figure it out.

Q: Do you do partner walks and partner reading, where the young children are partnered with the older students?

Lilavati: Now that COVID is winding down, we’re doing partner reading again, because the kids missed it so much. The little kids and big kids both love having partners. If you have a partner for reading and you see your partner at recess, you know them as friends, so the big kids watch out for the little ones.

Our littlest girl this year, just a tiny slip of a thing, as cute as can be, was partnered with our tallest boy, and I have a picture of them, this long, lanky boy and this tiny girl, and they’re poring over a book together.

 

Appendix 3: Research that Supports Education for Life

To obtain a PDF copy of this book with clickable links, visit the website of the Palo Alto Living Wisdom School: www.livingwisdomschool.org. In the PDF, you can follow the links to the articles in the list below that support the principles and practices of Education for Life.

Most education research focuses on how teaching methods affect academic performance, but forty-five years of experience have shown us that practices that enhance a child’s inner development can powerfully contribute to their academic success.

(If you come across supporting research, please let us know. You can send us a message at www.livingwisdomschool.org/contact.)

Teaching/Academics

Education for Life online teacher development: http://edforlife.org/courses/. For teachers-in-training, and for continuing teacher education.

Active Focused Learning Approach. Quotes: “I’m not really held back anymore, just sitting in class waiting.” “There’s not a lot of lecturing, which makes it easier to stay focused.” “I really like working with other students.” Students spend more time working in groups. The strategy is getting more students to achieve better results in class.

Longer school day and year failed to improve test scores.

Task to Aid Self-Esteem Lifts Grades for Some.

Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play In School (PDF)

The Heart in Holistic Education. (PDF) Educational programs based on new scientific discoveries about refined feelings lead to improved emotional stability, cognitive functioning, and academic performance.

Tutoring Tots. MSNBC News feature.

10 Ways to Improve Schools Using Coaching Principles. An important article by Tony Holler, a public high school honors chemistry teacher and football and track and field coach (Plainfield North HS, IL). Living Wisdom School has followed Tony’s 10 recommendations throughout its 40-plus-year history, and because we’re very clear that they’ve played a large part in our success, the principles are engrained in our school’s philosophy.

We’re destroying our kids — for nothing: Too much homework, too many tests, too much needless pressure. A Salon article argues that we’ve gone overboard on academics, destroying the enthusiasm in kids that’s essential for academic success. The result? “Children are born curious, and it’s pretty easy to facilitate that, to groom it,” says Vassar College neuropsychologist Abigail Baird. “We’re doing the opposite. We’re squishing their desire to learn new things. And I think that’s a crisis.”

Impact of Homework on Academic Achievement (PDF).

Going in circles puts students on path to better choices. Quotes: “The goal is not so much to punish as to get students on paths to make better choices, to understand the impact of what they do, to deal with people better”… “We’ve become more like a family and not just kids who go to school together,” said freshman Leah Brito. “We’ve grown up big time in the last few months.” “One result of the new approach is that kids are giving more thought to the effect what they do and say can have on others,” she said. “In eighth grade, the he said/she said stuff was horrible when many of the students were together at Audubon middle school,” Brito said. “This year, there is much less of that.”

Is Test Prep Educational Malpractice? In many elementary schools there is little or no time for non-tested subjects such as art, music, and even science and history.

Preschool Controversy — Academics or Play? Quotes: “People who attended play-based preschools were eight times less likely to need treatment for emotional disturbances than those who went to preschools where direct instruction prevailed. Graduates of the play-based preschools were three times less likely to be arrested for committing a felony.”

Why I pulled my son out of a school for ‘gifted’ kids. In this Mashable article, a mother tells how her son thrived after she transferred him out of an elite academically oriented elementary school in New York City. “If you are privileged enough to be selective about what schools your children attend, please consider how they are learning and not just what they are learning. School isn’t only about cramming as much as possible as quickly as possible into their little brains.”

Pressure Cooker Kindergarten. Quotes: “Kindergarten has changed radically in the last two decades in ways that few Americans are aware of. Children now spend far more time being taught and tested on literacy and math skills than they do learning through play and exploration, exercising their bodies, and using their imaginations. Many kindergartens use highly prescriptive curricula geared to new state standards and linked to standardized tests. In an increasing number of kindergartens, teachers must follow scripts from which they may not deviate. These practices, which are not well grounded in research, violate long-established principles of child development and good teaching. It is increasingly clear that they are compromising both children’s health and their long-term prospects for success in school…. Kindergarten has ceased to be a garden of delight and has become a place of stress and distress…. Blindly pursuing educational policies that could well damage the intellectual, social and physical development of an entire generation…. There’s ongoing concern about American children catching up with their counterparts in countries such as Japan and China. Specifically in areas such as science, math and technology, schooling in those countries before second grade is “playful and experiential.” And youngsters in Finland, where teens consistently score high academically, also attend play-based kindergarten and start first grade at age 7 rather than age 6.”

School starting age: the evidence. An article on the website of Cambridge University. “In England children now start formal schooling, and the formal teaching of literacy and numeracy at the age of four. A recent letter signed by around 130 early childhood education experts, including myself, published in the Daily Telegraph (11 Sept 2013) advocated an extension of informal, play-based pre-school provision and a delay to the start of formal ‘schooling’ in England from the current effective start until the age of seven (in line with a number of other European countries who currently have higher levels of academic achievement and child well-being).”

What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success. The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because it values equality more than excellence.

One in Five Girls in Upper Secondary School Suffers From School Burnout. Quotes: “A sense of optimism during university studies along with high self-esteem tend to predict job engagement ten years later on, while an avoidance strategy tends to predict work-related burnout…. The more encouragement the students got from their teachers, the less likely they were to experience school burnout.”

Explaining Math Concepts Improves Learning. Quotes: “Teaching children the basic concepts behind math problems was more useful than teaching children a procedure for solving the problems — these children gave better explanations and learned more,” Rittle-Johnson said. “This adds to a growing body of research illustrating the importance of teaching children concepts as well as having them practice solving problems.”

Social Skills, Extracurricular Activities In High School Pay Off Later in Life. Quotes: “High school sophomores who … [had] good social skills and work habits, and who participated in extracurricular activities in high school, made more money and completed higher levels of education 10 years later than their classmates who had similar standardized test scores but were less socially adroit and participated in fewer extracurricular activities…. ‘Soft skills’ such as sociability, punctuality, conscientiousness and an ability to get along well with others, along with participation in extracurricular activities, are better predictors of earnings and higher educational achievement later in life than having good grades and high standardized test scores…. Schools are increasingly cutting…activities that foster soft skills in order to focus almost exclusively on achieving adequate yearly progress on state-mandated standardized tests.”

Students Benefit From Depth Rather Than Breadth. Quotes: Teaching fewer topics in greater depth is a better way to prepare students for success in college science. Teachers who “teach to the [standardized] test” may not be optimizing their students’ chances of success in college science.

Task to Aid Self-Esteem Lifts Grades for Some.

Teacher Teaming. (Teachers routinely engage in “teaming” at Living Wisdom School, thanks to the integrated curriculum and school environment that encourages teacher collaboration.)

Teaching Resilience With Positive Education.

Ten Steps to Better Student Engagement. Quotes: Students who have been shamed or belittled by the teacher or another student will not effectively engage in challenging tasks. To learn and grow, one must take risks, but most people will not take risks in an emotionally unsafe environment.

Creating Positive Classroom Management. (A teacher developed creative ways to encourage positive attitudes and behaviors in younger students. The method and theory are very similar to the “Rocks in the Basket” game used at LWS and described in this video.) Quotes: “I’d spent years offering students rewards (stickers, tickets, tangibles, intangibles) for good behavior and I’d come to realize how they were often self-defeating…. One change I had already made was … I would celebrate ‘great work’ by reading aloud the child’s name and stating what they had done well. Often their classmates would give an actual round of applause — which was lovely.”

Learning and Motivation Strategies Course Increases Odds of College Graduation.

Recess Makes for Better Students. Quotes: Study finds getting enough of it [recess] each day helps kids perform better in classroom…. Children learn as much on breaks as they do in the traditional classroom, experimenting with creativity and imagination and learning how to interact socially…. Conflict resolution is solved on the playground, not in the classroom…. The more physical fitness tests children passed, the better they did on academic tests…. Walks outdoors appeared to improve scores on tests of attention and concentration.

Algebra-for-All Policy Found to Raise Rates Of Failure.

Lectures Didn’t Work in 1350 — and They Still Don’t Work Today. A conversation with David Thornburg about designing a better classroom.

Physical Education

Physically fit students do better on tests. Quotes: “Physically fit students … are more likely to do well on … tests and have better attendance…. Fit students are less likely to have disciplinary problems.”

Schools use mind-body relaxation techniques to help kids fight anxiety. Quotes: “Mind-body relaxation, including yoga, can improve self-esteem and boost grades and test scores…. Regular exposure to the [relaxation] training boosted students’ work habits, attendance, and academic performance.”

Physical Activity May Strengthen Children’s Ability to Pay Attention. Quotes: “Following the acute bout of walking, children performed better on the flanker task…. Following acute bouts of walking, children had a larger P3 amplitude, suggesting that they are better able to allocate attentional resources…. The increase in reading comprehension following exercise equated to approximately a full grade level.”

A Fit Body Means a Fit Mind. Quotes: “Cardiovascular exercise was related to higher academic performance…. Regular exercise benefits the brain, improves attention span, memory, and learning … reduces stress and the effects of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder…. Aerobic exercise pumps more blood throughout the body, including to the brain. More blood means more oxygen and, therefore, better-nourished brain tissue. Exercise also spurs the brain to produce more of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which Ratey calls ‘Miracle-Gro for the brain.’ This powerful protein encourages brain cells to grow, interconnect, and communicate in new ways. Studies also suggest exercise plays a big part in the production of new brain cells, particularly in the dentate gyrus, a part of the brain heavily involved in learning and memory skills…. [Many] schools are cutting back on PE and reducing recess hours. It’s a huge challenge with budget restraints and No Child Left Behind.”

Joy in Learning

The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland (The Atlantic),  by Tim Walker, a former teacher based in Finland. He now cares for his two young children and writes regularly at Taught by Finland and Papa on the Playground. Research and school experience show that play time is crucial for children’s academic and social development.

How to Parent Like a German. German students excel, yet in German schools academics are balanced by other kinds of learning.

Stay Focused: New research on how to close the achievement gap (The Economist, UK). A review of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, by journalist Paul Tough, a former editor at New York Times Magazine.

Psychologist explores how childhood play influences adult creativity. Sandra Russ’s new book, Pretend Play in Childhood: Foundation of Adult Creativity, reveals how high-achieving innovative adults use methods learned in childhood play to help them achieve success.

Most 1st Grade Classes Not High Quality. Quotes: “Only 23 percent of classrooms could be judged to be of ‘high quality’ in both their instructional practices and social and emotional climate.”

Happiness Contagious as the Flu. Posted on the LiveScience website. At Living Wisdom School, we create a joyful, caring environment among the students. When a new student arrives, he or she immediately feels supported and positively affected. Parents routinely comment that soon after their children enter LWS they seem happier than at their former school.

Meditation, Breathing, Yoga, Affirmations

Meditation Program in the College Curriculum. Quotes: “[Meditation] produced significant freshman-senior increases in intelligence and increased social self-confidence, sociability, general psychological health, and social maturity.”

Self-Affirmation Can Break Cycle of Negative Thoughts. A report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Meditation in the Treatment of ADHD. Meditation-training showed significant decreases in levels of impulsivity [and significant improvements in] selective deployment of attention and freedom from distractibility in the behavior of the children.

How Meditation Can Give Our Kids an Academic Edge

Meditation seen promising as ADHD therapy. Quotes: “The effect was much greater than we expected.” — lead researcher Sarina J. Grosswald, a cognitive learning specialist in Arlington, Virginia…. The children also showed improvements in attention, working memory, organization, and behavior regulation.

Faith rites boost brains. Even 10 to 15 minutes of meditation appear to have significant positive effects on cognition, relaxation, and psychological health.

Schools use mind-body relaxation techniques to help kids fight anxiety. Quotes: “Mind-body relaxation, including yoga, can improve self-esteem and boost grades and test scores. Regular exposure to the [relaxation] training boosted students’ work habits, attendance, and academic performance.”

Silence is Golden (Mindfulness Meditation study).

Smacking Hits Kids’ IQ.

Smiles Predict Marriage Success. Many parents report their children smile more after attending Living Wisdom School.

Vedic Science based Education and Non-verbal Intelligence. An increase in student problem-solving ability was found.

Meditation and Assertive Training in the Treatment of Social Anxiety.

Meditation Effects on Cognitive Function. Meditation practice produced significant positive effects.

Meditation Improves Leadership Behaviors. Quotes: “Subjects who learned [meditation]… as a self-development technique improved their leadership behaviors.”

Social Skills

UCLA neuroscientist’s book explains why social connection is as important as food and shelter.

Psychosocial stress reversibly disrupts prefrontal processing and attentional control.

Music

Adolescents Involved With Music Do Better in School. Music participation has a positive effect on reading and mathematics achievement for both elementary and high school students.

Adolescents Involved With Music Do Better in School.

Music Education Can Help Children Improve Reading Skills. Quotes: “Children exposed to a multi-year programme of music … display superior cognitive performance in reading skills compared with their non-musically trained peers.”

Music Training Linked to Enhanced Verbal Skills. Quotes: “Music training … may be more important for enhancing verbal communication skills than learning phonics…. potential of music to tune our neural response to the world around us…. Music training may have considerable benefits for engendering literacy skills…. (Musicians have enhanced subcortical auditory and audiovisual processing of speech and music.)”

Other Articles and Papers

It’s Official: To Protect Baby’s Brain, Turn Off TV (from Wired online). Quote: “A decade ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that parents limit TV consumption by children under two years of age. The recommendations were based as much on common sense as science, because studies of media consumption and infant development were themselves in their infancy. The research has finally grown up. And though it’s still ongoing, it’s mature enough for the AAP to release a new, science-heavy policy statement on babies watching television, videos or any other passive media form. Their verdict: It’s not good, and probably bad.”

The Human Brain: Wired for Values? This article was published as a sidebar to an article in Mothering magazine that strongly praised Living Wisdom School.

Lack of Playtime Killing Joy of Learning.

Smart and Good High Schools. A “Report to the Nation” from the State University of New York.

The Heart in Holistic Education. (PDF) Quotes: “Educational programs based on new scientific discoveries about the heart lead to improved emotional stability, cognitive functioning, and academic performance.”

After Abuse, Changes In the Brain. Quotes: “Affectionate mothering alters the expression of genes in animals, allowing them to dampen their physiological response to stress. These biological buffers are then passed on to the next generation. [There is] direct evidence that the same system is at work in humans.”

Loneliness Spreads Like a Virus. At Living Wisdom School, feelings of connectedness and joy spread like a virus.

Positive Action Program. The program focuses on helping students be aware of which behaviors are positive and will increase their happiness in the long term.

National education standards can end up hurting students.

Self-Control Is Contagious.

Nature Makes Us More Caring.

College prep math failure full study. (PDF) Quotes: “This study indicates that artificially pushing children beyond their current capability is counter-productive.”

Studies Reveal Why Kids Get Bullied and Rejected. The researchers’ recommendations for teaching children social skills uncannily reflect how LWS teachers practice conflict resolution during playground time.

Mothering magazine praises Living Wisdom School.

Education in the Age of Energy. Human awareness is becoming less materialistic and more energy-aware. How will schools adapt? Living Wisdom leads the way.

National education standards can end up hurting students.

Nature Makes Us More Caring, Study Says.

When Friends Make You Poorer. Quotes: “Students tend to gravitate to a major chosen by more of their peers. And the students whose choice was driven by their peers were then more likely to end up in lower-paying jobs that they didn’t like.”

Kids Get Worst SAT Scores in a Decade.

APA review confirms link between playing violent video games and aggression.

Exposure to TV violence related to irregular attention and brain structure.

School Starting Age: The Evidence.

Appendix 2: Education for Life and the Living Wisdom Schools

As of this writing in mid-2022, there are six thriving Education for Life Schools in Palo Alto and Nevada City, California; Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; Ljubljana, Slovenia; and Assisi, Italy.

(You can find brief descriptions of the schools online at this page: http://edforlife.org/about/#schools.)

The term “Living Wisdom School” refers to schools that follow the Education for Life philosophy, and that were founded under the auspices of Ananda Sangha. (The first school was started at Ananda Village in 1972.)

Thanks to the success of the Living Wisdom Schools, the good news about this inspiring broad-spectrum approach to academic excellence has spread to organizations that have started, or plan to start their own schools that will be based on the Education for Life philosophy and methods, but that will not be formally associated with Ananda. These schools can generally be referred to as “Education for Life Schools,” but they are not, strictly speaking, Living Wisdom Schools.

Because this book is based on the experience of the original schools, the terms “Living Wisdom School” and “LWS” are used throughout.

Appendix 1: Education for Life Resources

Education for Life Schools:

Palo Alto, CA
https://www.livingwisdomschool.org

Nevada City, CA
http://www.livingwisdom.org/

Portland, OR
http://livingwisdomportland.org/

Seattle, WA
http://livingwisdomschoolseattle.org/

Assisi, Italy
http://www.livingwisdomschoolassisi.com/

Ljubljana, Slovenia
http://www.sola-lila.si/