Gopal’s Garden Preschool Builds Community at New Vrindaban

New Vrindaban Gopal's Garden Preschool 2015

By Madhava Smullen

A group of preschool children, along with their devotee parents and grandparents, bustled excitedly into Gopal’s Garden Homeschool Co-Op for their graduation party on November 5th.

The event had ISKCON New Vrindaban president Jaya Krsna Das calling the Co-Op “community building at its best.”

Gopal’s Garden was established in New Vrindaban, West Virginia – Srila Prabhupada’s first farm community — in 2007 by Ruci Dasi. It runs to eighth grade, and teaches thirteen students in total.

Its preschool, which cares for eight children aged three to five, was an individual effort launched this April by New Vrindaban residents and parents Sundari Dasi and Mercy.

We decided to do it as soon as my son Sanjaya and Sundari’s daughter Bhumi were the right age, so that they could be together, and play and learn with other children in the community,” says Mercy, who was born and raised in New Vrindaban and wants to pursue a career in teaching.

New Vrindaban ISKCON Gopal's Garden Preschool 2015

Mercy assists head teacher Sundari, who moved to New Vrindaban from Bangalore in 2011 and holds a Montessori teacher training certificate. Under their care from 12:30 to 3:30 each day this year, the children learned basic ABCs, counting, colors, arts and crafts, how to share, hand-eye coordination and speech development along with spiritual projects that put Krishna in the center.

The teachers’ children Bhumi and Sanjaya both attended the recent graduation party at Gopal’s Garden to celebrate their first year of school, along with Malini, Pranaya Keli, Rama Lochana, Nadia, and Harilila. Arjuna, who was absent because he was traveling with his parents, also completed the year.

The event ran from 6 to 8:30pm, beginning with everyone offering ghee lamps together to Lord Damodara, along with the classroom deities of Radha Krishna and Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra.

A video presentation entitled “Glimpses of Gopal’s Garden Preschool” followed, showing the young students’ heartwarming participation in Krishna conscious festivals throughout the year.

New Vrindaban ISKCON Gopal's Garden Preschool 2015

For our first festival of the year, Pushpa Abhisekha, we had a picking party with the kids where we picked a bunch of local flowers here in New Vrindaban, then they pulled off the petals and showered the deities with them,” says Mercy. “It was so sweet.”

Next, the children participated in ISKCON New Vrindaban’s Rathayatra by helping to make outfits for their classroom Jagannath Deities, decorating a small cart that community members came together to build, and pulling it while having an ecstatic kirtan. All the parents then made a special offering of cupcakes and cookies to Lord Jagannath, and distributed them to the children.

On Janmastami, the students got to bathe their Radha Krishna Deities in saffron water, and take turns pushing them on a special Jhulan Yatra swing that had been constructed for the occasion.

And on October 25th, a week before Halloween, the teachers and parents got creative and held a Krishna-ized Halloween party with all the children dressed as demons from Srila Prabhupada’s book Krishna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead. The parents then ascended a stage with their child and narrated the pastime of how Lord Krishna dispatched that particular demon.

New Vrindaban ISKCON Gopal's Garden Preschool 2015

Meanwhile in honor of the 50th anniversary of Srila Prabhupada’s arrival to the West, the children got to decorate a construction paper “Jaladuta” ship and glue blue cotton balls around it to represent the ocean.

After the video depicting all these activities, the children stood and sang classic gurukula songs like “My Name is Aghasura,” “Krishna’s Devotees Had A Farm,”and Mercy’s own composition to the tune of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” – “Krishna Has A Little Calf.” They also demonstrated their “ABCs.”

Sundari and Mercy then presented proposed plans for improving the preschool in 2016.

As next year will be more focused on academics and learning, we will introduce a worksheet program, teaching the kids how to trace and write letters so that they can start learning how to write their own names,” says Sundari. “We’ll also start teaching them the Spanish and Sanskrit for English words they’re learning.”

New Vrindaban ISKCON Gopal's Garden Preschool 2015

Health will also be a priority. There will be more outdoor games, and yoga taught by Sundari – who has a diploma from Bangalore’s VYASA yoga university – so that the children can burn off their energy and learn motor skills. Lunch time, instead of consisting of store-bought snacks as it did this year, will feature a full meal such as rice, dahl and bread cooked by a different parent each day.

Inside the classroom, individual cubbies will be installed for each child to learn to put away their jackets, shoes and personal items.

And as always, Krishna consciousness will be a priority: a proper altar will replace the current dovetailed bookshelf. “We also want to have a couple of Laddhu Gopal Deities, so that the children can learn to dress Them and offer their food to Them,” Sundari says.

To conclude the graduation program, the children were presented with certificates. Finally, principal Ruci Dasi and president Jaya Krsna Das spoke, thanking Sundari and Mercy for their dedication and enthusiasm and praising how the school has brought the community together.

“It’s wonderful to see the kids hugging each other when they come in, and to see all the parents becoming friends,” said Jaya Krsna. “Many of them would not even know each other if the pre-school didn’t exist, as they live several miles apart from each other.”

New Vrindaban ISKCON Gopal's Garden Preschool 2015

He was glad to see the preschool training the children so early in life in Krishna consciousness, in a way that would be a challenge for their parents to do with their busy schedules. He also appreciated that the preschool gave parents, especially mothers, some much needed free time in which to rest, chant, or engage in other activities, while feeling assured that their children are being nicely taken care of.

Weeks after the graduation event, Jaya Krsna is still bubbling over with enthusiasm and appreciation for the preschool.

For me, it’s just Krishna’s magic,” he says. “These kids are our future; and so the preschool is doing nothing less than building the future of New Vrindaban.”

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