Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrea Suarez has been offering a much-needed service for devotee families – her Krishna Kids Youtube videos and Instagram page provide Krishna conscious stories, songs, and arts and crafts lessons that will keep young children entertained and learning.
Andrea tells the story of Lord Nrismhadeva during her time teaching Sunday School at the Bhakti Center in New York from 2017 to 2019.
Andrea, herself is an animated and extremely likable guide who is an expert at presenting Krishna consciousness in a way that is fun and easy to understand for 0 – 5-year-olds.
As a child, Andrea and her sister would make up songs and stories, and put on puppet shows for themselves. Years later, Andrea got her Bachelor’s degree in elementary education and initially hoped to be an elementary school teacher. Working at an early childhood center while she got her Master’s degree in literacy, however, she fell in love with early childhood education and teaching preschool-age children.
Raised in New York City, Andrea met Krishna devotees on the subway there in 2015 and began attending the ISKCON temple at 26 2nd Avenue. After bringing her niece to the Sunday School at the Bhakti Center in Manhattan in 2017, she was put in charge of the early childhood program for two years, modifying existing ISKCON Sunday School material for babies and preschool kids.
“My idea was to make it super simple,” she says. “Kids love songs, they love stories, and they love crafts.”
In December 2019, Andrea and her husband Paul moved to Gainesville, Florida; she offered Sunday School at the ISKCON Alachua temple and taught an art class at Bhaktivedanta Academy for two months. Then the pandemic hit.
Putting her “Krishna Kids” program online on Youtube with the help of “tech guru” husband Paul, Andrea broke the material from her 30-minute in-person classes down into five minutes-or-less videos so that they would be easily digestible.
The videos include stories acted out with watercolor cut-outs, finger puppets and peg dolls; step-by-step arts and crafts guides; and Krishna Kids songs. Some of these, like ISKCON classics ‘I’m a Little Krishna’ and ‘I saw the Jaladuta’ are written by other devotees and given to Andrea to perform, and some are written by herself and her husband.
Andrea adapts stories for kids by reading Urmila Devi Dasi’s curriculum and the primary source material for the pastime such as the Srimad-Bhagavatam or Chaitanya Charitamrita and listening to lectures on the pastime.
Andrea tells stories of Krishna and Balarama using glove puppets during her time at the Bhakti Center from 2017 to 2019.
“I take all these things, and try to filter them through what I know that age group can understand,” she says. “I write bullet points for myself and think — what’s the essence of the story?”
One recent favorite, for example, was “Lord Chaitanya Dances with the Animals,” acted out with cut-out felt elephants and tigers. Coming up on Rama Navami – April 21st – will be a six-minute abridged version of the Ramayana complete with peg dolls of Sita, Rama, Lakshman, Hanuman, and Ravana.
Ideas for songs often come to Andrea while chanting japa, or, interestingly enough, while sleeping – much to the amusement of herself and her husband.
“I sleepwalk and talk,” she explains. “Often I’ll sleepwalk over to Paul while he’s doing something and be like, ‘I have an idea for a song.’ He’ll say, ‘Really? What is it?’ And then I’ll start singing it, and he’ll say, ‘I’m going to write it down, so you can go back to sleep, okay?’ Then I’ll wake up the next morning with an email from him saying, ‘This is the song you thought up in your sleep!’”
Songs are very simple, hit a couple of key points from a particular pastime, and stick in kids’ heads like glue. “Nrsimhadeva is the great protector, His nails are sharp and long – rawwr!” goes one song that will have children singing it nonstop. “Nrsimhadeva has come to crush the demons, and bring joy to Prahlad – rawwrr!”
Meanwhile, easy to follow arts and crafts videos show step-by-step how to draw Lord Nrsimhadeva and give Him a tissue paper mane; how to create Lord Varaha lifting Mother Earth using two paper plates; and how to make baby Krishna Butter Thief footprints by dipping your fists in paint and “walking” them across a piece of paper.
Andrea makes all these presentations in an extremely animated, engaging style that speaks to young children.
“One of the first things you learn about early childhood education is that children at a very young age have limited attention spans,” she says. “One way to keep their attention – as in TV shows like Blues Clues and Dora the Explorer – is to have the characters talking directly to the kids, and make the kids feel like they’re engaging with the character.”
Andrea adds: “Children in that age group also respond very well to rhymes and repetition. And they’re all about the energy of things – they understand the energy more than what you’re saying. I love Krishna, and I love the kids – that’s not fake on my part. So I put that energy into my videos, and they catch it. They’re like, ‘Oh, she’s excited about this. If she’s excited, I should be excited too.”
While the Krishna Kids Youtube page is the main home to the videos, the Instagram page allows Andrea to interact with viewers, receive messages from them, and read comments. “It’s really sweet – sometimes parents will tag me when their child is singing the songs or doing the arts and crafts,” she says. “I’ve even had some adults who are new to Krishna consciousness tell me that they’ve understood the stories more from watching them with the puppets – it helps them get the basics.”
Looking to the future, Andrea, who was born in Colombia and is bilingual, hopes to create Krishna Kids content in Spanish. She also hopes to continue presenting her songs, stories, and crafts, as she feels that there is currently a dearth of Krishna conscious material for preschool children online.
“Rukmini Walker (a disciple of Srila Prabhupada) would always say in her classes that if Srila Prabhupada saw something one of his disciples was particularly good at or inspired by, he would try to give them a service that went along with that,” Andrea says.
“I feel like Krisha Kids is a way I can offer seva using my strengths. To me, it feels like a very personal service that I can offer to Krishna and His little devotees.”
Please watch Krishna Kids videos here: www.youtube.com/c/krishnakids
Keep in touch and up to date here: www.instagram.com/krishnakids
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies