Srila Prabhupada mentions in the purport of SB.3.25.25 the importance of devotee association. He explains that devotees should give up the association of materialistic persons and seek the association of devotees; he describes that to understand the pastimes of the Lord, to see the Lord as a person with personal activities and to offer devotional service one should have devotee association. Srila Prabhupada states that devotee association means association with the Lord.
It is relevant for devotee teachers and parents to understand that Srila Prabhupada´s instructions are also applicable to children. In order to establish the seed of devotional service in the hearts of young children it is relevant for devotee children to associate with other devotee children in a context that promotes Krishna Consciousness.
Vrajalila Devi Dasi (personal communication, January 14, 2019) mother of a devotee girl; explained that she does not see Krishna Consciousness as something to develop only during adult life. Vrajalila dd stated that children can also awake love for the Lord and become Krishna Consciousness; but, unlike adults, children can´t choose an association that will help them in their spiritual path. Vrajalila dd requested for parents to take responsibility in offering their children an education and an association that will help them do devotional service.
This reveals the importance of devotee association from an early age, because it is only through devotee association that young children can perform devotional service. Young children need devotional toys as well as devotional friends to create a situation where they can play to be Radha Krishna; or Sita, Ram Lakshman, Hanuman. Devotee teachers and parents need to provide a devotional context where devotee children can learn about the Lord, associate with other devotee children, engage in devotional play and offer devotional service to the Lord.
The goal for Vaisnava teachers and parents is to present Krishna Consciousness to young children keeping in mind their interests and their natural ability to play. This involves providing a Vaisnava curriculum that goes hand in hand with children´s interests and providing resources that will allow for young children to do devotional play.
When devotee children play cooking with Radha and Krishna dolls they use toy pots, plates and cups; and they imagine the bhoga that they are offering to the Lords. However, the magic of Krishna Consciousness is that the mind is also a temple (SB 3.28.18) and whatever spiritual action children do for the pleasure of the Lord, though it might not appear in the concrete platform it does happen on the spiritual level. It can be concluded that play about the Lord, also call devotional play; offers devotee children the opportunity to do devotional service and attain some spiritual advancement.
Lillard, Pinkham and Smith (2011) mention that boundaries between imaginative and real are very thin in early childhood. This characteristic of young children can be beneficial to teach them about the Lord and His different forms; since they can see the Lord on the Deities without difficulty. When taken to the temple young children will naturally accept the Deities as the Lord; or when playing with devotional toys like Radha-Krishna dolls or Goura-Nitai dolls, young children will naturally see them as the Lord; and perform devotional service while playing. Such simple acts of devotional play will help devotee children to advance in Krishna Consciousness.
In the Gurukula of the Bhaktivedanta Manor we offer the opportunity for young devotee children to meet and make friends with other devotee children and offer devotional service to the Lord. We seek to awake in our children devotion for the Deity of the Lord and to help them experience a taste for serving the Deity of the Lord. In our school children worship daily the classroom Deities; learn to do acamana; and do a simple arati by offering articles of worship by turns. We give children a chance to awake a taste for chanting the Holy Name in congregation; and the opportunity to do kirtan and use devotional instruments. We also want our children to develop love for mother cow; and we organize visits to the Goshala of the Bhaktivedanta Manor.
In the Gurukula of the Bhaktivedanta Manor we deliver the British National Curriculum for early years which contains seven learning areas: Personal Emotional Development; Communication and Language; Literacy; Mathematical Development; Knowledge and Understanding of the World; Physical Development; and Creative Development. The Vaisnava curriculum for early years (Faith and Nurture curriculum) has been incorporated into our planning and it is delivered according to the vaisnava celebrations; it holds diverse topics like: the Holy Name and Srila Prabhupada; Lord Krishna and His pastimes; Lord Chaintanya and His pastimes; Lord Rama and His pastimes; the Avatars of the Lord; the Deities of the Lord; and the devotees of the Lord.
As vaisnava teachers we seek to spread bhakti and awareness about the Lord in our children by being role models of faith, devotion and knowledge about the Lord and His different forms. We seek to transmit the benefits of religious practices such as: worshiping the Deity, praying to the Lord, congregational singing (kirtan); and meditating in the Lord and His different forms; in the awaking of Krishna Consciousness. Our duty as Vaisnava teachers is to nurture in our children a loving relationship for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna and prepare them for the burdens that they might confront in their lives.
Please consider visiting our lovely school (15 minutes’ drive from the Bhaktivedanta Manor Temple); and meeting our children and staff. To schedule an appointment please write to our principal Mother Guna at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like more informational about teaching Krishna Consciousness in the Early Years, please write me at email@example.com
Mani Manjari dd
Lillard A.,Pinkham A. and Smith E. (2011) Pretend play and cognitive developmet. Chapter 11 in The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Childhood Cognitive Developmet. Online book at: https://is.gd/DHkyZD
About the author: Mani Manjari DD, is disciple of Bhakti Gauravani Goswami, holds a Bachelor Degree in Special Education from Boston University; Master Degree in Early Years Education from the University of Sheffield; and a Post Graduate Certificate in Education from the University of Nottingham; she serves as Reception teacher in the Bhaktivedanta Manor Primary School.