A group of mothers based at Bhaktivedanta Manor near London are teaching their children the ancient scripture Srimad-Bhagavatam – from as young as four months old.
Sucirani Dasi and her friend Vrinda Kishori began preparing to introduce their children to the Bhagavatam early on. In 2011 when Sucirani was still pregnant, they attended Aruddha Dasi’s homeschooling seminar, which teaches a curriculum based on the Bhagavatam.
“We began to develop a framework,” Sucirani says. “Then, when my son Madhav was just six months old, we thought, ‘Why wait until they can understand?’ We were inspired by some of Srila Prabhupada’s lectures wherein he was insistent that we should hear the Bhagavatam, even if we don’t understand. He said ‘the facility for hearing Srimad Bhagavatam should be given.’”
Sucirani and Vrinda Kishori began their “Kids’ Bhagavatam” program with just four children, and today there are about twenty split into two groups.
The younger group is led by Divyangana Radhika and Sharamila Radhika from parents’ homes in the London suburb of Edgeware to make it easier on those with very young children who can’t travel.
A craft project to understand how Lord Krishna is in their hearts
Sucirani and Vrinda Kishori’s older group is facilitated outside on the beautiful green grounds of Bhaktivedanta Manor in the summer months, and in a room inside the Manor in the winter.
Each weekly session lasts about an hour, with about four weeks spent on each chapter to provide the kind of repetition that’s important for young children’s learning.
Participants range from four months to four years. Younger kids might mainly watch and listen from their mother’s arms, while older kids might participate more in the activities. And while you might wonder, ‘How do you teach such young kids the Bhagavatam?’ it’s all very creatively devised and age appropriate. It’s also very endearing.
An example is the way Sucirani taught Canto One, Chapter One, which explains how just as a fruit becomes sweeter when pecked by the beak of a parrot, so the ripened fruit of the Bhagavatam becomes sweeter when spoken by the mouth of the great devotee Sukadeva Goswami.
“So we had the children sit in a circle, then we gave them some fruit, and had a toy parrot go around and peck everyone’s fruit,” says Sucirani. “At the end, we let the kids eat the fruit.”
Ananda Monet leads kirtan as the kids chant and dance in the bubbles
When learning about the age of Kali, the kids had a blast acting out its lazy, misguided, quarrelsome and unlucky people by all laying around on the floor, wandering about with exaggerated aimlessness, pretending to bicker with each other, and turning their thumbs downward to depict unluckiness.
To experience how Bhagavatam speaker Suta Goswami is the captain of our ship through the difficult ocean of Kali, the children made origami boats and floated them in a bowl of water.
And to learn about how Krishna is in their heart, they got to fill a drawing of a heart in with glitter, then pick one from a selection of Krishna stickers, and place him in their heart.
In later chapters, they recreated the spiritual sky by using paint on the lip of a cup to create the planets, and matched cut-out aspects of Krishna’s universal form with each other.
“For instance, I’d ask, ‘Where does the blazing fire come from?’ And they’d all run to the mouth,” says Sucirani. “Then we’d take them outside on the Manor grounds and they’d try to find aspects of the universal form, like the trees, the sun shining in the sky, and water.”
There are also fun nursery rhymes to help learn more difficult concepts, such as “My name is Maha-Vishnu, I’m lying down / in the Karana ocean with disc and crown.” And there’s homework wherein parents help their kids create their own Bhagavatam with drawing and collages.
Sessions end with professional singer Ananda Monet holding a kirtan where each child, no matter how quiet or small they are, is encouraged to sing. Sometimes, they’ll blow bubbles and dance around in them, or sing while they walk to the Goshala to see the cows.
Meanwhile Divyani Dasi’s parallel Krishna songs group for kids organizes special kids’ festivals on Vaishnava festival days for the children in all the groups, as well as “baby storytelling sangas” with visiting Vaishnavas like Janananda Goswami or Deena Bandhu Das.
Children really look forward to their weekly Bhagavatam sessions and often repeat things they’ve learned. Meanwhile parents find it helps them in their own Krishna consciousness.
“I’ve spent about four years in a temple ashram, and I can say that I didn’t know Bhagavatam in four years as much as I know it now, just by doing it with a baby!” says Sucirani.
“It has made being a parent such a spiritual blessing, rather than the spiritual deprivation I’d been warned about!” adds Vrinda Kishori. “I’ve been more spiritually inspired after having a child than before.”
For more information, please visit http://kidsbhagavatam.com[ education ] [ london ] [ srimad-bhagavatam ] [ uk ]