A large circle of 6-to-9-year-olds sits and contemplates a jar brimming with multicolored glass hearts. “How do we want to celebrate our transcendence?” asks their teacher, and a forest of hands fills the air. The Rainbow Heart Jewel Ceremony at Oneness-Family School (OFS) is underway, a practice that honors each child’s progress and affirms their benefit to the community.
Each glass heart embodies a moment when a student accomplished a personal milestone, whether in academics or social and emotional interaction. The teachers and children award the hearts when they witness a breakthrough or an act of kindness or support, happily plunking one into the jar. When it is full, the class holds a special meeting where the students acknowledge each other and plan their celebration. Trips to the zoo or skating rink are among their favorite choices in the first through third grade classrooms.
Rather than competing for grades or athletic trophies like at most schools, OFS students are motivated by what founder and head of school Andrew Kutt calls, “self-transcendence.” “Children thrive when we support their curiosity and natural desire to learn. The Rainbow Heart Jewel practice directly encourages intrinsic self-motivation, a key quality for academic success and happiness in life,” he says.
Any family can easily adapt the Rainbow Heart Jewel practice for use at home to promote positive growth and change. Using marbles or pebbles and a jelly jar, family members can appreciate each other’s efforts in a visible way. Some parents view the jar as a piggybank for valued habits like self-discipline, gratitude and conflict resolution. Doing the dishes when asked, completing homework on time and exercising all count. Using the tool in common and periodically celebrating success also brings children and parents closer together.
Parent educator and Sociologist Christine Carter, Ph.D., of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, affirms the value of such practices in her book, Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. “Scientists have found that people practicing gratitude are considerably more enthusiastic, interested and determined; feel 25 percent happier; and are more likely to be kind and helpful,” she writes.
Such hands-on activities are a function of the OFS Montessori approach and its dual commitment to strong academics and fostering peace in students, families and the world at large. “You become what you practice,” says parent Mark Hillman, a Bethesda-based investment adviser whose eighth-grader graduates next month. “OFS helps reinforce what the parents want to be, too—more present, mindful and at peace.”
Andrew Kutt started the school 25 years ago in Chevy Chase, Maryland, to provide child-centered learning with a global perspective. More than 50 nationalities are represented among the 135 students, which range from age 2 to eighth-graders. Mixed-age classrooms give students the opportunity to experience being leaders at a young age and see how their project-based studies connect to the next level.
“Mindfulness is another key practice in our curriculum, because of its impact on the brain,” says Kutt. “We call meditation ‘silent moment’ for the younger students and all grade levels practice it in class and at our weekly community meetings.” Benefits to the students include increased attention, emotional resilience and better retention of concept learning.
Recommended by Carter and a growing chorus of neuroscientists, mindfulness meditation also has the full endorsement of Representative Tim Ryan (D-Ohio). Author of A Mindful Nation, Ryan is the first congressman to publicly embrace the scientific findings and advocate for the broader adoption of mindfulness in schools, the military and healthcare. Ryan will accept an award and give a talk at 7 p.m., May 16, at OFS, to commemorate the school’s 25th anniversary. The public is invited to attend and celebrate the growing culture of mindfulness across the U.S. and its role at the center of the school’s life.
Families can also try the Rainbow Heart Jewel Ceremony and learn about mindfulness meditation during the school’s anniversary festival from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., May 18. Hugh Byrne, a senior teacher with the Insight Meditation Community of Washington and former OFS parent, will teach about meditation for grades three and up. Other activities include a moon bounce, a poetry slam, live music and an art show. All events are free. “We want to share the gifts of our first quarter-century for the well-being of D.C. area families,” says Kutt.
By Grace Ogden
To register for the events, visit OFS25th.BrownPaperTickets.com. For information about the school, call 301-652-7751 or visit OnenessFamily.org.
Grace Ogden is the founder of Grace Productions, a transformational events and consulting business based in Washington, D.C. Contact her at 301-445-6771, Ggogden@gmail.com or GraceProductions.co.