In the past few years, the mental health of young children has become extremely fragile—the incidence of depression and mood-related disorders has gone up. The covid-19 pandemic has only added to this with feelings of uncertainty and isolation uppermost on children’s minds. However, the School of Joy programme, with its focus on spiritual fortitude—a deep coping mechanism that helps people hold onto their faith and face difficult situations— hopes to change that. In an interview, published in Psychology Today, Daryl R. Van Tongeren, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Hope College, emphasised on the role of spiritual fortitude in character building and development, if people are able to transform their experiences of suffering into something meaningful. “Today, covid-19 is a big challenge. Tomorrow it could be something else. The idea of this programme is to empower kids to take anything head on,” says Sonali Gupta, principal, The Shriram Millennium School, Faridabad.
She has implemented the School of Joy programme for Grades 1-3. The pedagogy includes original stories based on spiritual insights, daily practice of self-reflection for children, projects for a deep dive into these concepts, and meditation for centering the self. TSM, Faridabad, has always been particular about the students’ mental health and well being, and the Little Light’s School of Joy proved to be a perfect fit with the school’s ethos.
“I am a person who believes in the power of stories. We all remember the tales that our grandmothers would tell us at night. And the School of Joy is very story-driven. That is its USP,” says Gupta. Grade 1 children might not be able to comprehend the ideas of body image, positive criticism, and more, when explained in plain terms. However, they are able to understand such complex ideas and emotions better through stories. The follow-up activities and quizzes further reinforce the values and concepts that teachers discuss in class. “Students are now becoming resilient and solution finders,” adds Gupta.
An article by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University states that it is never too late to build resilience in children. “The brain and other biological systems are most adaptable early in life… . Age-appropriate, health-promoting activities can significantly improve the odds that an individual will recover from stress-inducing experiences. For example, regular physical exercise, stress-reduction practices, and programs that actively build executive function and self-regulation skills can improve the abilities of children and adults to cope with, adapt to, and even prevent adversity in their lives,” it states. This does not mean that children will never experience challenges or emotional pain in life; it’s just that they will be able to handle it in a positive manner and cope with the outcome. Self awareness for kids is the first step to developing a strong spiritual fortitude. Teachers, parents and children are working together towards this goal as part of the School of Joy programme.
Parents have been getting a glimpse of this unique classroom as well—earlier through the virtual medium when online classes were being conducted and now in the physical space whenever they come to school. They have also been observing the changes—some subtle and others more obvious—in their children over the past one year. In fact a parent applied some of the techniques in his office, thus creating a better environment for his colleagues.
“Very often, you would hear parents complain that this generation is not so tolerant or so resilient. But have we as adults empowered them? As a school, we very strongly believe in this. And it is fortuitous that the School of Joy programme adds layers to this idea in such a big way,” says Gupta.
For her too, the coaching for teachers and the senior leadership has come with a set of positive takeaways. The foremost of these has been to be one with the moment. “Just feel the energy of that moment. It will clear so many things for you,” she adds. Self awareness for teachers is crucial to help them work on themselves and develop skills to guide children to live their life purpose. The coach certification for teachers is an added professional in their repertoire.
Children have now started looking forward to the sessions; and have become more mindful while listening to the stories.Rohini Majithia, TSMS, Faridabad
Parents are all very thankful that such a programme has been introduced at such an early stage of their child’s life.Anuradha Gupta, TSMS, Gurgaon
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Sonali Gupta | Principal, The Shriram Millennium School, Faridabad
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