ATB is part of the curriculum of most Auroville Schools. In Auroville the school year starts in July and runs until the end of April. What follows is a glimpse of each school.
ATB is offered in two Auroville kindergartens: Centre Field Kindergarten and Nandanam Kindergarten. About 60 children from ages 4 to 6 have ATB for about an hour per week. At the kindergarten level, Stefania and Francesco are sharing the work.
It is around 9 am when we enter the kindergarten. The school is filled up with playful children. As soon as a child sees us, he comes running towards us with a big smile to give a hug, and right after, he runs back to his classroom calling out to the other kids, “There’s A.T.B. today!!”
We set up the hall in which we work with the props needed. Then we go to their class to pick up the children. They are sitting in a circle already waiting for us, curious to know how are we going to go to the hall today: may be by train, or airplane, or as a huge snake…?
Once we arrive at the hall, the class starts. A surprise, a special object, a puppet animal, a story, or a new game kindles the interest of the children and magnetises their attention. This allows us to propose exercises for their development while playing, which fosters the wonder, the magic that is unique at this age. The rhythm of the class is fast;the intensity of the involvement in the activity is high. One activity quickly follows the other. As soon as the interest begins to decrease, the teacher comes up with a new trick, be it magic or game, which will spark another wave of fun and interest in the class. This goes on for 30 to 50 minutes, depending on the age of the children, with short “water breaks” when needed.
We end with all of us taking a break and going to relax at “a beach”, or going to sleep on a “giant pillow”…, or imagining that our belly becomes a colourful balloon… or turning into shells, we lie at the bottom of the sea; whatever is appropriate and helps to enjoy a pause for some time before the children go back to their class. When the class is over and they leave, they never fail to say to us: “See you next week!”
Transition School is an elementary and middle school with 160 children from ages 7 to 14. Here, four teachers are offering ATB twice a week to the eight groups of students. Patrizia and Francesco are leading the first four groups and Joan and Nuria (in training) lead the four older groups.
About the school year 2012 – 2013 grades 5th to 8th :
After observing, at the beginning of the school year, the dynamics that were taking place in the different groups, we decided to place our focus on activities that would foster honesty – being honest with oneself and with the group that one is working with – and that would help to develop awareness of the interactions between “me and the group”.
We chose to address these objectives through cooperative games and an activity that is particularly useful in this regard: Sticks.
In the cooperative games the key point is the sharing at the end of the game when we observe together what worked and what didn’t and learn from it for next time. Another key moment occurs when we request a pause in the middle of the activity, every time the dynamics of the group get muddled without the children realising it.
This helps children to learn to talk to each other in effective and respectful ways. By emphasising honesty and goodwill we help them to overcome common habits like: blaming, shouting at each other, not listening to each other, not daring to talk or letting go of a legitimate thing to say because one feels not listened to, fear of confronting particular members of the group, not caring for the group, etc.
The Sticks activity is very useful to improve group dynamics. It is a group exercise in which people simultaneously throw and catch sticks. It is highly demanding and compels each member of the group to be totally present and responsive to what is happening in it. After working with it for about a month an important change took place in the group. The children felt integrated in the group, cared for it and felt taken care of by it.
As a 13 year old girl put it in a feedback at the end of one of the classes: “Before when a stick fell, people would blame, get angry, complain; now when a stick falls people say sorry and ask what to do better. We are learning to work together!”
Deepanam is a small primary and middle school with about 30 children from 7 to 12 years old. This year the school has divided the children into three groups. Two teachers, Patrizia and Rosa, lead the ATB classes for about an hour twice a week.
At Deepanam we work with mixed age groups. This gives ample opportunity to work on certain aspects we would like the children to develop so they can share their classes together harmoniously. To achieve this aim, we use different types of exercises: cooperative games to learn patience, respect for each other’s pace and acceptance of their differences; attention and concentration activities to help them come into contact with their inner being; relaxation exercises in pairs and breathing exercises so they learn to let go and to centre. At times we just let the class become a space where they can share and receive guidance on issues that we feel are important for them to talk about.
One of the activities we have done recently has been a concentration class where we asked the children to focus their attention on the flame of a candle stuck in the middle of a plate. They were to move silently about the room trying to keep the flame from flickering. The children were to divide their attention between this and observing the effect the exercise was having in their being. We ended the session with an exchange of candles amongst themselves while they were looking into each other’s eyes.
The feedback that follows is from two different 8 year old children of.
“I never felt like this before; I felt I was in company… not alone.”
“I don’t get easily along with X, but today when we exchanged the candle it was so nice, we were like best friends.”
In addition to the group classes, we also offer individual sessions to support the process of integration of the new children and prepare them to join the group.
We also offer individual sessions to the children of the older group who wish to go more deeply into self-exploration, either to improve the awareness of their physical body or to release and thus let go of subconscious patterns and automatic responses.
Very surprised, a 12 year old child of expressed at the end of one of these individual sessions: “I think it is the first time in my life that I really lie down.”
Udavi is one of Auroville’s Outreach schools, located in Edayanchavadi village. The school follows the calendar of other local schools from mid-June through April. At Udavi an attempt is made to expand the standard Indian school programme to make it more flexible and more integrated. Classes in ATB are only offered to the 60-odd older students in standards VII – IX, who meet twice a week with Partha and Suzie.
Each year one new group (VII standard) is taken up and that first year is spent mainly introducing the students to ATB and its principles, and accustoming them to working in this way. It takes time to develop attention and concentration, so many different opportunities to do this are offered. This year’s group is a large one (17), lively and easily excitable. Through the activities we awaken the capacity to listen attentively and to focus on the activity that is offered.
With the VIII standard there is already a capacity to concentrate and they are eager to participate in the range of activities that is offered. Still, there is plenty of excitement and ongoing work to be done in the field of concentration.
The internal dynamics of the IX standard have challenged us enormously as their group has trouble finding a working harmony. We have explored numerous ways to help the students learn the joy of working together. Building trust between students and creating a safe environment where difficulties can be openly discussed have been two of the main goals for us with this class.
With the eldest group, X standard, there is always a consultation at the beginning of the year so they can express their perceived needs and preferences. All are eager to participate in the class, but not all have the self-discipline necessary. Group work, learning to work together harmoniously, is their articulated aspiration, so activities have been presented where that can be explored. This class is also interested in a high level of challenge. Towards the end of the term a special surprise structure setting was created for them. The ATB room was curtained and students entered throughan unusual door. Blindfolded from the beginning of the activity and without having a chance to look at the layout to make a projection, the students were told that this was an exercise in facing the unknown. They crawled through a tunnel to reach a maze of elements arranged in a non-linear way. In the sharing at the end they all said they enjoyed it immensely.