Gratitude, compassion and awe are central to well-being and for your child to thrive. The key theme of gratitude,  has formed a focus of recent research in psychology. This research, the idea of ‘noticing and appreciating’ what is around, has seen to be strongly related to well-being, and is described as a form of gratitude. Gratitude is often taught by encouraging children to say ‘thank you’.

Whilst it is great to have this verbal exchange in terms of politeness, it is clear that genuine gratitude is about being connected enough to an exchange to truly feel gratitude for it. Therefore it is about ‘noticing and appreciating’ the deeper aspects of the exchange. The latter takes more energy, and it requires contemplation and careful exploration to encourage this level of connection in children. It’s certainly not easy to achieve, but we have found inspiring ways to convey and explore gratitude with children.

In modern western society, we are encouraged to be unique, autonomous individuals, and whilst this has its merits, it also has its pressures. In the recent UNICEF survey, UK children scored poorly on the social measures. Add this to the narcissism and lack of empathy that is being reported in the academic literature and this is cause for great concern. We must start asking questions about, where the strong teachings, centred on co-operation, communion, and harnessing greater and deeper connections to one another, should be coming from? Again, whilst this is taught in a cognitive way in schools – the ‘you should share because it is nice to share’ approach – actually having children truly connect to this concept is a much deeper process.

With children, we have found that it involves discussions of the greater good and exploration of this in their close groups, which can then be widened to their community, and more widely to the world. Once more, this level of connection is not easy to achieve, but we have found inspiring ways to convey and explore these concepts with children.

At the heart of the development of these deeper connections lies compassion; or more specifically trying to help children understand and develop compassion. Academic research reports levels of empathy declining in our young, and we believe that having children develop their compassion will be central to increasing empathy. Moreover, we take this to deep, philosophical levels, by, for instance, talking to the children and encouraging them to explore interconnectedness.

We guide children to the realisation that we all share life, and we all have life running through us. As a point of exploration, we may, for example, show children a dying brown crispy leaf and compare it to one which has life running through it and is thriving. We are not afraid to discuss deeper issues such as what life is and what happens when life no longer thrives. In fact it is these realisations, that are a platform for everything else to be explored. From a recognition and respect of life, we become connected to each other and nature, and we begin to respect the earth and the conditions needed for life to survive. We feel gratitude for the earth, the elements and the wider cosmos, visible as the sun, the moon, and the stars.

We believe these to be important discussions to have with children. To discuss and consider what happens when life leaves something, what happens when life thrives and how can we cultivate life? When children connect themselves to being part of a bigger whole, they realise that they have a responsibility and a job to do, we are custodians of the earth. It is wonderful to observe in children these realisations growing in a very gentle way. This can be an awe-inspiring experience and with it comes a natural care and feelings of compassion and gratitude. Moreover, from this realisation of interconnectedness the child develops a profound sense of belonging.

These ideas are, not new to us, but sometimes it is the obvious, or the conveyance of the basics, that can slip past us without us realising. We can loose our ground; or more probably we have lost our ground. The themes themselves are no strangers to us, and certainly form the basis of many religions and spiritual doctrines. Some of you may even be starting to think that the ideas conveyed are starting to sound religious…even this thought may lead some people to start closing off…please don’t. These concepts can also be viewed philosophically, they are basic wisdom; it is just common-sense.

They are aspects to life that underpin religions, but they are also non-denominational. Religions gather these concepts up into neat packages with a clear overriding narrative, which allows people to access and understand the deeper aspects of life. Indeed, without a grand narrative to hang these off, the teachings can just become disparate units that are difficult to put together, or connect to, and this is part of the challenge. But these concepts, this deeper connection, can be taught in an inclusive, non-denominational way, and we have to explore this.

We believe we have found a wisdom approach, a common-sense approach, to teaching and exploring these concepts. We have found a way to give children a basic foundation of the basis of life, that we can then build on. Those who wish, or are encouraged at home, to take it further with spirituality or religion are free to do so; those who don’t are still able to connect to these deeper issues without them (or their parents) fearing that it is leading to places they do not want to go. There is a commonality between us all, and we truly believe that a lack, or sometimes a fear, of addressing this is causing tears and rips deep in the fabric of society.

These basics, and how to explore these in a secular community, is something we have shied away from on a practical level for too long. We are bravely stepping forward, not claiming to have the full solution, but we have certainly taken gentle, careful steps on this path. We are also certain that if we want to repair some of the rips and damage deep in the fabric of our communities and society then we need to create space for this type of non-denominational, wisdom-based, heart-led approach to evolve.

We have touched on some deep issues for contemplation, as we do in our school programme and our work. However, in our school programme we balance these deep periods of contemplation and realisation, with vibrant periods of dance and song. Along this path there is so much to celebrate and the desire to sing and dance with glee, to jump for joy, be free, just overcomes us.

We want to celebrate: the life that we all share; that we are alive at this very moment; the exciting realisation that we have a life full of possibilities ahead; and the fact that we live in this expansive universe. We celebrate each of our talents, and encourage each other to find these talents and share them with the world. This leads me to end with a quote, I’ve never been sure who said it, but if it was you, thank you… I love it! It goes something like this…

‘Ask not what the world wants from you, but what makes you feel alive and go and do it, the world needs people who are truly alive.’