Educating Loving Hearts, Free Minds and Active Helpers:

Bucharest Kindergarten Teacher Training 2021

By Didi Ananda Devapriya

This year’s annual three-day intensive Neohumanist teacher training in Bucharest was filled with laughter, bonding and a celebratory feeling, having passed through the double challenges of accreditation and the pressures generated by the first year of the pandemic successfully. At that moment, there was a feeling of elated relief. Everyone was looking forward to things returning to normal, with high enrollments at last, and relaxed restrictions. Unfortunately, that optimism would soon prove to be short-lived when Romania entered a devastating third wave of the pandemic in October, and was leading the world in mortality rates from COVID by the beginning of November.

The training was organised around the three main curriculum themes of our Romanian early childhood curriculum: loving hearts, free minds, and active helping. These themes, in turn, were derived and inspired by the yogic concept of the full human potential, or “dharma” of human beings, known in sanskrit as “Rasa, Vistara and Seva”.

On the first day, the theme was “Loving Hearts” and we discussed how to create a spiritual flow in the classroom, and the concept of universalism. Working in an Eastern Christian Orthodox country, with several staff members that are deeply rooted in that faith paradigm, it was important to clarify that Neohumanism is not requiring people to relinquish their faith, but rather to deepen it. Universalism means going beyond the surface level to find the common, cross-cultural truths that enrich and expand our understanding of our own authentic spiritual experience. Indeed, the core of Neohumanism in its essence is the firm belief in the innate goodness in the child and in the hearts of all. This positive regard is what nourishes the seed of spirituality within the child, as the sun enlivens the potential of a seed within the earth. The discussion also led to an exploration of dogma versus authentic spiritual experience.

The next led workshops were on the inner development of the teachers’ own balance and confidence. We did several experiential exercises to develop confidence, including “Gromolo” speeches. Gromolo is a made-up nonsense language, absolutely any string of meaningless syllables qualifies as Gromolo. We learned to salute each other in Gromolo, and even stand up in front of the group to give a Gromolo speech, with two translators doing their best to interpret our unique expressions. This was a particularly challenging but powerful experience for the shyer members of the team.

On the second day, we discussed “Free Minds” and how to cultivate rationalistic mentality already from early childhood, which is so essential to the Neohumanist vision of building strong character. We talked about offering children opportunities to practice decision making and listening to their inner compass. We also talked about how to stimulate curiosity, scientific thinking, questioning, reflecting and learning from experience. We also looked at overcoming limitations by activating critical reflection, for example to address stereotypes that children may express towards each other during play. The inner development side of this was to look at the importance of cultivating personal reflection and self-analysis, using professional development tools.

On the final day of the training the theme was “Active Helpers”. Here the discussion focused on how to stimulate the sense of powerfulness and agency in children, imparting the feeling “I can do something!” “I love to help!”. We discussed the main motivations of individual selfish pleasure vs deriving pleasure in collective welfare and how to stimulate that spirit of solidarity already from the early years, for example by favoring cooperation over competition. After an experiential exercise on deep listening with unconditional regard, we also talked about how powerful it would be to teach children not just in expression, but in deep listening. Especially as listening is one of the most beautiful gifts and services we can offer to another human being, so to learn this early could greatly enrich one’s whole life.

Sprinkled throughout the training were team building exercises, stories, and games that brought the group together in a closer bond. We also re-evaluated our future role within the broader context of early childhood education in Romania and how we can make Neohumanism more visible and relevant to other educators.