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Europe’s only primary school to teach through Buddhist principles

The Buddhist Channel, Dec 2, 2013

The Dharma Primary School in Brighton, UK offers rounded academic education rooted in mindfulness – helping children develop creativity, empathy, self-awareness and confidence

Brighton, UK -- Dharma Primary School, in Brighton, is the only primary school in the UK to offer an education based on Buddhist values. This independent school isopen to children aged 3-11 from all religious faiths and cultural backgrounds, providing a quality academic education combined with Buddhist teachings to support the development of mindfulness, compassion and communal responsibility.

Although a small community school, The Dharma Primary is helmed by skilled and committed staff, in which children are groomed to excel in a safe, secure and nurturing environment.

The school provides a sound quality academic education informed by the National Curriculum, but with the flexibility and creativity to respond to the children’s needs, talents and interests. Children develop confidence, motivation and a love of learning enabling them to do well academically and to make a successful transition to local independent and state secondary schools.

Through Buddhist based ethos and daily meditation and mindfulness practice, teachers encourage children to cultivate focus, self-reflection, wisdom and compassion. Buddhism is not taught as a ‘faith’, but as a set of principles and tools for living a productive and fulfilling life.

Mindfulness for Children

At The Dharma Primary School, mindfulness is integrated as a part of the wider commitment to Buddhist principles. Sessions of one to two minutes, as silent or guided meditations, several times a week are taught to young children, connecting mindfulness with regular daily activities such as eating, working and playing.

These activities have proven to be useful in developing patience, compassion and self-awareness. In meditation, children are made aware of their thoughts and how rapidly their mind moves from one thought to another. In this way the children are guided to understand the power of thought and feeling and have an opportunity to observe and learn how they respond to situations and people around them.

In daily meditation, older children are given a range of opportunities to reflect on and discuss experiences that have affected their inner world.  Such meditations may involve situations in which they did not get what they wanted, or were given what they did not want, and experiences of separation from special people or pets. 

Children are taught to reflect on the experience and talk about it afterwards often expressing some relief or understanding.  This requires receptive and non-judgemental listening by the teacher and is frequently experienced as positive and meaningful by children, teachers and observers.

Teachers emphasise positive approach to living rather than a quick fix for problems. To be effective, it needs to be integrated into children’s education as an ethos, a daily practice that is encouraged over the long-term just like healthy eating and exercise.

The following are some frequently asked questions extracted from the school's website.

How is Buddhism taught in the school?

Buddhism is not taught as a faith, but as a set of principles and tools for living a productive and fulfilling life. Children learn about Buddhism, but also about other faiths and world views. The key principles of Buddhism are taught in a practical way that helps children to understand both the world around them and to make sense of their inner feelings and emotions. They learn about cause and effect (in Buddhism known as karma), cooperation and change, and interdependence and impermanence. The five Buddhist precepts form a code of conduct enabling children to see how right action leads to positive outcomes (fulfilled lives). Meditation and mindfulness are taught as a daily practice to help develop self-reflection, focus and concentration; short sessions work best for children and have a powerful and cumulative effect. After a guided meditation, children are encouraged to share any insights or feelings they may have experienced during the practice. Former pupils cite these brief, regular mindfulness sessions as a positive part of their development. To approach meditation physically we introduce children to the practice of yoga or movement education developing mind-body awareness as well as coordination, balance and good physical health.

What are considered the main benefits of a primary education based on a Buddhist ethos?

We believe that along with the development of children’s confidence, self esteem and social skills, through daily reflection children gain a greater sense of responsibility and insight into their own unique contribution and place in the world. Through this practice children better understand their feelings and emotions and are more confident in expressing themselves effectively. Key principles such as kindness, sharing, focus and patience are taught as a practical application of Buddhism, alongside a quality academic education based on the national curriculum. Research indicates that children’s core personality traits and emotional responses are formed around the age of seven; the way they learn to relate to themselves and others during the primary school years is a key indicator of adolescent and adult behaviour. We believe that our approach equips children with core life skills as well as a sound academic education – wisdom as well as knowledge.

Will my child fit into the mainstream educational system after The Dharma Primary School?

Academically and socially, children merge into secondary school very successfully.  They are usually excited about moving on to the greater challenges and diversity of secondary school education. We have received positive feedback from secondary school staff, who describe former Dharma School pupils as confident, expressive and focused. In the words of one former pupil, “The main difference between me and my friends at secondary school is that I am more able to be my own person and happier in who I am.” The majority of our children go on to secondary education in the state sector, at schools such as Dorothy Stringer, Blatchington Mill and Varndean, though some do continue in private education and have achieved scholarships for Brighton College, Brighton and Hove Girls School, Lewes Old Grammar and Shoreham College.

Do the children have to become vegetarian? Is vegetarianism something the school instill as part of the Buddhist ethos?

Our school offers vegetarian lunches as an option, however we do not expect children or families to be vegetarian. We teach our children to have reverence and respect for all things – people, animals and the planet, and to have consideration for the welfare of all living beings, but recognise that eating a vegetarian diet is a personal decision for families and individuals to make.

What is a ‘puja’?

‘Puja’ is the name given to various devotional and offering ceremonies practised across all Buddhist traditions. The word itself is derived from the ancient Sanskrit term for ‘flower’ and pujas probably developed from the custom of offering the Buddha flowers on his arrival in a particular place during his travels. At The Dharma Primary School, each class holds a short puja every day and on Fridays the whole school gathers at 9am for a weekly puja to which parents, relatives and visitors are also invited. Our weekly puja is the Buddhist equivalent of a school assembly and often includes a talk by our Head Teacher Peter Murdock on a particular topic related to mindfulness, a short meditation and sometimes some chanting. It is also an opportunity for pupils to present some of their work – a different class will usually contribute each week, either reading out stories or poems, showing artwork or singing and performing. When pupils join and leave the school, they are each presented with a flower at a special puja, in reference to the origins of this ancient Buddhist practice.

For more information, please visit: http://www.dharmaschool.co.uk

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With thanks to Ross Young, who introduced the school's website for the benefit of our readers



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