Spiritual Work with Children/Development of Creativity in Children (Experience of the Club Harmony)
Development of Creativity in Children (Experience of the Club Harmony)
The concept of man’s harmony includes a fairly wide range of issues, which are not covered by the volume of knowledge and skills given in the schools. The harmony of personality implies not only coherent development of the physical, intellectual, and emotional spheres, but also the ethical and spiritual development, which allows one to live in harmony with the surrounding world and gives one the ability to value the beauty and perfection of the world of nature and skillfully interact with it.
One of the main tasks of upbringing is to help children to become creators. Children have to develop the desire to know themselves, their capabilities, and realize them for the good of others.
To know oneself and to “create” oneself — this is the most difficult art. Therefore, one has to start solving the tasks of upbringing from the early years of a child’s life. One has to find and use methods for directly influencing the spiritual and creative potential contained in the emotional-volitional sphere of the child. One has to awaken in the soul the aspiration to Goodness and Love, which may become the source of ethics and harmony of the person [8-9,30-35,38-41].
In this article, we describe our experience of work with groups of children and the methods which we used in this work. Our classes included exercises for the development of imagination, attention, memory, physical training, methods of tempering the body, conversations on ethico-psychological and aesthetical themes. Development of creative activity was prompted through painting, dance, and various games. We also used elements of psychic self-regulation  to draw the attention of children to the problems of self-control and self-education, which are necessary for the development of a harmonious personality.
The work on the development of the creative abilities can be successful only if there is a positive emotional environment during the class. The techniques of psychic self-regulation of the system mentioned above are very helpful for this purpose, because they create a warm, benevolent environment and encourage children to “open” and to share the best with others. They also sharpen the perception, improve the mental activity, and allow children to look at the world more broadly. By teaching the methods of auto-suggestion one can also do psycho-correction of students’ personalities, which is very important.
We see the primary tasks of work with children in the following:
a) To remove diffidence and emotional tension in the students.
b) To give them the skill of harmonious communication with others, based on benevolence.
c) To form in them ecological thinking, including a careful attitude towards nature.
d) To develop the capability for concentration of the attention.
e) To form in them aesthetical needs.
f) To do basic physical training, including exercises for development of correct carriage and control of the body, also motion games, running, and tempering of the body.
In each class, one of the aspects of work is chosen as the main one.
Classes are held twice a week in a gym. The duration of each class is about three hours. In addition, the weekend is used for out-of-town trips or for excursions (for example, to exhibition halls).
The best number of students in the group is about 12-16. The group is composed of children of either 8-12 years old, or 10-15 years old. Parents may participate in the class; this creates a “warm”, “family” environment, solves many problems inside the families, and contributes to the development of the communication skills. It is very important to make the parents interested in such a form of work with their children. If the parents understand the importance of the tasks of our work, it accelerates the progress of the children. Therefore, the aspect of work with adults is a separate task altogether, which has to be realized through conversations, lectures on nutrition, psychology of communication with children, and acquainting the parents with corresponding literature [8-9,29,31,33-34,38-39,41].
Children and parents participating in classes must be dressed in sport suits and have with themselves light mats on which they can sit in the gym. The suits and mats must be made of natural fabrics, because synthetic fabric can have an adverse effect on the metabolism processes in the body. The gym must not be lit with fluorescent lamps.
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The introductory part of each class includes the exercise The Wish, which attunes the participants to work and creates a positive emotional environment. Everyone sits in a circle in the student posture (that is, sitting upright on the heels, the hands are on the thighs). The instructor reminds everyone that they have to relax the muscles of the face, neck, belly, arms, and then suggests listening to the quietness of the hall, then — to the inner quietness… The instructor’s voice must be loud enough (so that everyone can hear it without effort), calm, with pauses for performing the suggested exercises.
The instructor tells the meditation:
“Let us feel warmth in the center of the chest…
“There is a small piece of the sun there…
“It pulses, grows, fills the entire chest with its warmth…
“Its rays want to spread outside…
“We send them forward to everyone, stretching them like arms as a sign of friendship…
“Together with rays, we send wishes to everyone:
“May there be friendship!
“May there be light!
“May there be joy in the entire world!
“Now let us send the rays of our friendship backward, outside the gym, to all people known and unknown to us, to all animals, to all plants…”.
Then we do The Wish to the right, to the left, then up and down.
One can also use other formulas, for example:
“May all beings have peace!
“May all beings be calm!
“May all beings feel bliss!”.
The main part of the class includes a warm-up, exercises of psychic self-regulation, including psychophysical exercises, spontaneous dance in the form of a game, games-meditations, physical exercises, and relaxation.
Psychophysical exercises are a combination of physical movements with auto-suggestion. Since these exercises may be difficult for children to do, we train children starting with preparatory game-like exercises during the warm-up. We suggest that they focus the attention on the working muscles and joints and visualize streams of sunlight or pure rainwater “flowing” through them. Then children identify themselves with images of a dandelion flower, young tree, blade of grass, etc.
Below we provide a description of basic psychophysical exercises in the form suitable for children. These exercises are performed in standing position.
Giving Away — an exercise which attunes us to the desire of sharing with others all the best that is in us. In the initial position, the arms are bent; the elbows are at the level of the chest, the hands are at the breast. Then we move the hands in a wide gesture forward and to the sides. “Everything that we have received, we have to give away to others… We give out generously, free — all the good that we have accumulated, without the desire to receive any reward…” Repeat this exercise several times.
The exercise Reconciliation is performed by making a series of flowing wave-like downward movements using one of the hands. This gesture symbolizes peace, harmony, tranquility in us and in the surrounding space. Even mere visualization of oneself doing this exercise, if it is felt well, can have a stabilizing effect.
As a preparation to the exercise Awakening, one has to relax the body and slightly tilt the head back. We become immersed into the purity and freshness of morning, which fill us with vigor, power, and health. We feel joy! We feel our unity with the entire world! We raise the hands up, stretch ourselves as if after sleep, and wake up to see the beauty and harmony of the world… We let into ourselves the flow of the morning freshness coming from above (the hands move down to the shoulders as if helping this flow enter our bodies)… We wash ourselves with sunlight, pour it into each cell of the body… Become a blade of grass, a green sprout… The morning breeze flows… The entire body sways, dances as a blade of grass under the rays of the morning sun… The exercise turns into game-like spontaneous dance.
Spontaneous dance is done in the state of full relaxation of the body. Its movements are not planned, nor come from the mind. The body must enter into harmony with the surrounding space; it dances by itself, full of bliss… We rise on the toes, raise our hands, face, feel the flow of golden sunlight… Solar streams run through our bodies… They form a solar sea, and we dissolve in it… Transparent bodies, like seaweeds, dance in the solar sea…
There can be different variations of spontaneous dance — for example, a dance of multi-colored air balloons in the blue sky or a flight of free white birds in the rays of the morning sun.
Dance helps to change the physical and psychological state of the participants, removing diffidence, filling one with happiness, delight.
Sometimes it can be accompanied by music. It is good to use calm, soft eastern (oriental) melodies, to attune to smooth, flowing movements.
All exercises described above use one of the first methods of psychic self-regulation — work with images (visualization). From the first minutes of the class (starting from the exercise The Wish) children become immersed into the world of imagination. They become participants of the creative process, which develops with the aid of the instructor and with the common effort of all the participants. As the abilities of the children grow, the instructor can include game-meditations — a method, widely used in aesthetic-therapy for adults. In our case it is modified for the children's age.
Game-meditations imply the development of a particular aesthetical theme by means of visualization. The instructor suggests a theme, assigns the roles to the participants, and then “draws” in their imagination the development of the subject using vivid aesthetical images. The students must “enter the images”, identify themselves with them, feel the development of a harmonious connection with other participants, and express these relations via movements. In this case, the smoothness and harmony of movements manifest the emotional states, which occur in the process of meditative experience.
The following versions of game-meditations were used:
Journey on the bottom of the ocean — we move in warm, transparent water among gently swaying seaweeds, multicolored stones, playing fish, and sunlight spots.
Life of flowers — all participants identify themselves with their favorite flowers. Morning… The first rays of the sun wake up the flower. It straightens the petals, decorated with dew drops, and smiles to the sun. The flower happily gives its sweet nectar to a bee, which flies in, to a hairy caterpillar and to its other friends.
Flight of birds in the clouds — white, pink clouds in the blue sky, swift white birds, gentle rays of the sun… In this game, we experience their interaction.
The seasons — all participants identify themselves with a forest tree, with a drop of rain, with a forest bird — and live their lives in different seasons.
One can supplement such games with music. It can be, for example, ancient Taoist music from China, or contemporary music played on synthesizers, which reproduces the sounds and images of nature.
The success of this work is ensured by the ability of the instructor to cause the students to experience the appropriate images most vividly. The instructor must be capable not only of finding appropriate expressive words, but also of bringing to the students the experience contained in these words.
Physical exercises are a necessary component of each class. The health of the body is essential for a cheerful world view. Therefore, one of the tasks of work with children is to teach them the healthy way of life. In particular, during the class the children have to feel the joy that active motion gives them.
The series of physical exercises, mastered by the students in the class, have to also be used at home.
Motion physical exercises are intended for development of the elasticity of the vertebral column and joints, for training those groups of muscles which ensure correct carriage.
A series of static exercises (asanas) of Hatha Yoga are supplemented with explanation of their effect on the organism and on its psychic state [6,9,21].
We also teach the methods of respiratory gymnastics , simple pranayamas , and certain exercises from the Chinese gymnastics tai chi.
Another element of this part of the classes is motion games and running outdoors. We give children the skills of meditative running, among other . The use of meditative running allows us to transform ordinary monotonic running into a pleasant game that enriches the emotional sphere.
The participants also become acquainted with the basics of tempering [9,29,42], including walking barefoot in any season of the year. The most prepared children practice (together with parents) bathing in open water all year round.
Let us note that the methods of tempering the body not only develop healthy habits, but also train one’s willpower. Willpower is necessary for formation of the child’s personality in adolescence.
For practicing relaxation, we use the exercise Rest. It consists in sequential relaxation of all muscles, starting from the toes to the head, when one lies on the back with closed eyes. The state of relaxation continues for several minutes. This exercise can be performed with music in the background. We used lute music by ancient composers, music by G.Gurdjieff, and ancient Russian choir music. The instructor can suggest images during the relaxation, for example, to describe warm waves of the sea, sand on the beach warmed by the sun, a soft cloud that envelops the body, and so on.
Besides the exercise Rest, students in our classes learn other relaxation techniques, such as crocodile pose, half-tortoise pose , and others.
During relaxation the bright lights in the gym may be dimmed.
The final part of the class includes conversations, games and other activities, which continue to train the aesthetical taste of the children, develop creative manifestations, and form ecological thinking. It is important to tell the students about the potentiality of the human organism, make them interested in the problem of self-realization.
The problem of the attitude to nature is explained with the use of slides, reproduction of paintings, and music. One can make, for example, the following slide shows: The Life of Water, In the Mountains, Spring in Nature, and so on. One can use reproductions of paintings by N.Roerich, G.Kurnin, B.Smirnoff-Rusetsky. The theme of nature in the music is well represented in the pieces by Paul Winter (Ecological Jazz) and others. Children can listen to music during the slide show demonstration or at any time with a dim light in the hall (lit by a candle).
One can awaken children's creative forces with the help of lessons of painting. In this case, one can offer them to express in pictures those states which they liked the most during the class. Children may depict happiness — flowers raise their heads to the sun and enjoy its caressing rays; cosmos — planets where there is only friendships and where wars never happen; golden rain — large white chamomiles under the golden rain of the rays of the sun.
Sometimes we arrange evenings of fairy tales and poetry: with the light of only a table-lamp we read fairy tales and poetry — Russian, Eastern, and others. Children may reflect on the fairy tales by L.Tolstoy , Legend of Rama and Sita, legend by Sur Das Sur Sagar, and so on. A good fairy tale is a lesson in psychology, expressed in a language understandable to children. A fairy tale allows one to awake the good qualities in children and makes them reflect on ethical matters [30,40].
Along with fairy tales and poetry, we read stories about courage and honor found in books, newspapers, magazines — with the purpose of forming ethical ideals.
The final part of the class can include games. Psychologists point out that games are one of the most important means of upbringing and that without games, without imagination the child’s “flow of creativity” ends. Therefore, games are essential for stimulation of the creative initiative and for formation of the psychological individuality of each participant of the class. Moreover, games contribute to establishing good contacts and confidence between children and adults.
Here are some of the games we used:
Mirror — one child follows another and repeats all movements of the body and facial expressions of the partner.
Tele-eye — an imaginary eye as if moves inside the body and examines its different areas.
Flutes — we perceive the body as a hollow flute and sing vowels or short syllables, which sound as if from its different parts. At that we move the concentration of the consciousness to these parts one after another: to the center of the chest, to the center of the abdomen, to the neck, to the head.
We Shoot a Movie — participants make verbal “sketches” on a certain theme. The task is to make these “sketches” visible to others.
Let us note that in this part, as well as in the class as a whole, the main criteria for selecting the material are goodness and beauty. By filling the child’s “cup of the soul” with these qualities, we protect him or her from many mistakes, sorrows, and diseases.
Joint meal — a “ritual”, which concludes the class, is both mandatory and favorite for all. All participants sit around a common table, where we place the food that everyone brought. (Let me emphasize that we recommend to the students to keep to the killing-free ovo-lacto-vegetarian diet). Everyone becomes calm and silent. The instructor says the words of meditation-attunement:
“Let us feel a sun in the chest…
“Let us send from the chest our rays of gratitude to the food…
“Food gives us life, strength, the ability to help each other…
“Let us send our rays of gratitude to those who have grown and cooked this food for us…
“Let us send our greetings of joy to everything living around us…
“May there be friendship! May there be light! May there be joy in the entire world!
“Bon appetit to everyone!”
Everyone starts eating, without forgetting to share everything tasteful with each other.
During the meal, we may tell each other about best recipes or simply talk about something interesting.
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Besides the classes in the gym, we arrange on weekends out-of-town trips. For example, the group may go to a lake in the forest, where everyone can swim and sit around a fire. Children return from such trips full of impressions and strength. These trips are not only for entertainment and leisure: children get to know nature and learn to commune with it. For example, they learn certain “taboos”: we do not have a right to cause harm to nature in all its manifestations — be it a leaf, a blade of grass, an insect.
The nature is our large wonderful home! Communication with it can be a great joy for us!
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One can judge the effectiveness of the presented methodology from conversations with parents, questionnaires, and even from observing the changes that happen to the children.
Here is a list of changes noted in the children after 7 months of classes:
After every class they feel an increase of vigor, liveliness. Their physical condition and health became better.
The methods of this work accelerate “unfoldment” of children’s abilities. The children show interest in painting, physical training; some of them begin to write poetry, which they could not do before. The children like to listen to music, seek more advanced lessons in music and dance. They have a more conscious approach to the literature and to other incoming information. Their need of creative self-expression develops; their aesthetical taste grows; their horizons are broadened. Yet, the main effect is kindness growing in children.
These results are most obvious in the children whose parents either participated in the classes or attended groups where they mastered the system of psychic self-regulation . In this case children and adults are united not only by common interests, but also by a similar perception of the world and by the same approach to solving life problems.
In conclusion, it makes sense to briefly mention those qualities which must be present in the one who wants to conduct such classes.
Obviously we can teach others only that which we ourselves can do. This is why it is important that the instructor take the full course (for adults) of the system of psychic self-regulation, from which the basic ideas and principles of this methodology are derived. The knowledge and skills acquired in this course helps one to establish a good emotional contact with the students without authoritative behavior and dictatorship. Relationships based on collaboration and common creative work become natural for them. The spectrum of instructor’s possibilities is enriched with diverse and subtle “tools” of influencing the emotional-volitional sphere of the child. Instructor’s searching for ways “to live by the heart” (i.e. by love, goodness) leads to more sympathetic understanding of children's souls and to the ability of finding the most optimal principle of interaction with them in each specific situation.
From our experience we can recommend this methodology for use in facultative work in schools and in other children institutions.