SSVT Balavidyalayam – Educational Program on Hindu Culture
A seven-fold educational approach
- Understand & recite shlokas
- Learn about scholars & saints
- Discuss relevance to daily living
- Explore philosophical concepts in stories
- Experience cultural practices & rites
- Hear stories of sacred places and people
- Sing devotional songs
The Samskritha word Balavikas means ‘blossoming of a child’. Children grow by observing; some gain knowledge through books; some learn by experiencing art; yet others grow by volunteering & giving to others. Often, when learning is forced through shloka recitation or passive listening to religious stories, children do not grow or benefit from the teachings. However, when the teaching style is engaging, interactive & most important – relevant to a child’s life – learning is a spontaneous and effortless emergence. This ease of learning is central to Balavidyalayam – a school for children where we nurture a child to invite spontaneous blossoming.
Balavidyalayam is dedicated to educate children about Hindu practices, distilling essential Hindu values and teaching children to incorporate them in their everyday life in the US. While teachers strive to maintain the integrity of Hindu teachings, their dedication is to foster a child’s curiosity & interest in an ancient tradition – a way of life that follows an eternal code of dharma – Sanatana dharma.
Using a strong program built on Samskritha verses, Indian mythology, music, arts & games, teachers inspire students to inquire into their cultural & social relevance. The emphasis is on an engaging & responsive teaching style that encourage children to learn traditional practices while concurrently developing a clear individual culture that embodies Hindu dharma.
Samskritha shloka-s are selected with care to challenge a young child’s linguistic abilities teaching them to recite the words without splitting it incorrectly, all the while focussing on their breath control. This fosters a child’s ability to concentrate on what is being done at that moment in time. Over time, it strengthens their concentration & focus.
The stories narrated are chosen with considered deliberation. When narrating the Panchatantra, children are engaged by the content of the story, the narrative style & understand its relevance – learning the 5 tantra-s or living strategies. While the stories offer messages for adults and children alike, teachers interpret the stories in an age appropriate and relevant manner. Children often repeat these narrations at home & school, owning the messages in a way that is far different & more effective than a caregiver’s repetition of rules for good behavior.
The earliest version of Valmiki Ramayanam presents the love story of Prince Rama & Princess Sita who were embodiments of dharma. Many socially relevant messages are embedded in this Ithihasa that describes Sita as an strong woman, bound by her code of dharma & Rama as her beloved and devoted husband, bound by his own dharma as a ruling king. The message of dharma is emphasized even while children learn the well known story.
Mahabharatham is a family’s story – a story of family members struggling to get along. While popular versions project each character as good or bad, this Ithihasa when read carefully describes the good & bad in each character – simulating reality in life. While narrating these stories, children learn to understand the good and bad in each of us, and the concept of dharma as it relates to each family member in Mahabharatham. All interpretations will remain age appropriate.
Balavidyalayam offers a 3 year program that covers Samskritha verses, Hindu mythology, bhajans, writing & reading Samskritha script, music, art work, yoga and Indian cultural games that foster hand-eye coordination, concentration, and memory. Children will benefit from regular attendance & disciplined work. The program is not designed as a drop-in class since inconsistent presence interferes & disrupts learning, both for the student & others in the class.
Our Goals are:
- To teach children the value of Hindu cultural way of living.
- Instill pride and confidence in children about their Hindu identity.
- Teach children to read & write the Devanagiri script of Samskritham.
- Impart mythological stories distilling socially relevant messages.
- Expose children to arts, crafts & games from India.
New students initially learn to sit comfortably on the floor while developing the simple, yet challenging task of being attentive. Students are taught in the guru-sishya style where the teacher embodies the values that are being imparted to the student. Often, graduates of the program return to the classroom as teachers-in-training. Cultural disciplines of speaking in a respectful tone of voice, practicing the discipline of not leaving class while in session, not eating while in class, etc. are the subtle lessons practiced in each class. Other classroom etiquette are explained in a gentle, yet firm manner so as to create a culture of cohesive and cooperative learning.
Year 1 curriculum covers 2 semesters and includes the following:
- Students practice writing/reading Samskritha alphabets (Devanagiri script). We follow a learning practice that builds on a child’s ability for auditory learning, and combining this with visual recognition of basic Samskritha vowels and consonants.
- Students develop familiarity speaking Samskritham with clear diction (builds on a child’s ability to learn what is heard). Teachers provide auditory learning guides and focus on pronunciation. Recitation also builds a student’s capacity for breath regulation in order to recite without splitting the word incorrectly, just to catch a breath.
- Students learn to recite Samskritha verses with fluency (Hindu Religious Verses). Group recitation is practiced in class so that students learn to rely on memory & not learning aids such as paper or books. This is an ancient tradition of oral transmission & memorization of phonetically accurate Samskritha verses.
- Students understand Book 1 of Panchatantra & enact selected stories (working towards Year 1 presentation). The Panchatantra (often misunderstood as children’s story) is a compilation of five separate books, each dealing with a specific life skill (ex. how to make friends). Each book is a series of story within story (nested stories) that a teacher, Vishnusharma taught to 4 very well educated princes, so that they learn to understand people & life – simply said to become life smart (street smart). These stories are analyzed in an age appropriate manner so that children learn to discern the dharmic code of conduct that is context based – as distinct from the right / wrong of viewing action, (Resources: Panchatantra Read Online, Video Narration & Print Version)
- Guest presenters who offer enrichment programs within class time (bhajans, music, art work, games, etc.). Presenters will be experienced musicians, art teachers, & talented parents. Much of our Hindu cultural heritage has been showcased in dances, songs & artwork. As appropriate to the stories, children will engage in games & crafts that reinforce the narrations and recitations. When appropriate, art work will focus on religious observances (Build Your Own Ganesha), and celebrations (Deepavali, Navarathri, etc.).
Evolving … Proposed Plan:
- Increase Samskritha language proficiency
- Learn age appropriate verses from Valmiki Ramayanam
- Understand & Discuss messages from Valmiki Ramayanam, practicing enactment of select scenes (for Year 2 presentation) (Resources: Valmiki Ramayanam Read Online , Print Book)
- Increased level of difficulty of artwork, bhajans, music, and games
Emerging … Intentions:
- Students develop competence to speak, read & write a few phrases in Samskritha
- Students increase fluency in reciting Samskritha verses (age appropriate Bhagavad Gita verses)
- Students understand Mahabharatha & discuss intricate plots in the family story (Resources: Mahabharatham Print Book)
- Students learn advanced games (such as the game of dice used in Mahabharatha) to practice strategizing & critical thinking skills.
- Students work towards a project that is meaningful to them (Year 3 presentation)
- Students enact selected scenes from Mahabharatha.
Balavidyalayam offers teacher training modules for interested parents & family members of students. Community service hours can be provided for middle school & high school students who wish to volunteer their time to teach young students, while supervised by teachers & parents. There are at least three categories of service available:
- Lead Samskritha shloka-s (training & in-class support will be offered)
- Narrate selected stories (training & in-class support will be offered)
- Interact with students using games (training & in-class support will be offered)
- Offer an enrichment class of art, craftwork, music or dance.