Steps to make writing an enjoyable experience for kids.
Most writing is a private activity but a public service. Writing is, above all, for communication to convey ideas and feelings from your mind to another mind. Writing, said Srila Prabhupada, was also chanting (kirtanam) because it is repeating what one has learned from sacred books. Writing naturally follows reading because generally we want to express what we read with our own realizations. Writing also helps in all facets of the language, namely, vocabulary, comprehension, spelling, and logical thinking.
When the children are about nine or ten years old we can teach them writing through Srila Prabhupada’s books such as the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. We can ask them to compose essays on what they have read, comment upon current events through the eyes of shastra, and give answers to thought-provoking questions that we assign to them. Through this, they learn the different stages of writing, such as planning, drafting, revising, and editing. A few years later they are able to do research, understand the meaning of allegories, figurative language, and contradictions. They should be able to think critically, form their own understanding, and express it coherently.
We can try different ways to encourage our children to write on Krishna conscious subjects. Here are some of the things I did with my children.
During my homeschooling, I heard that a devotee, Suresvara Dasa, was teaching a Bhakti-sastri correspondence course for adults and so I wrote to him asking if he would kindly teach my eldest son, Radhika Ramana Dasa. He agreed and we signed up for the class. He would send questions written for an eleven-year-old and after my son answered them, Suresvara would correct them and send them back with comments, grades, and lots of encouragement. Besides the usual questions, he would also send some challenging ones that required application of Krishna’s teachings to real-life situations. I remember one in particular that was based on chapter 2, verses 62-63: “Complete this scenario: A teetotaler enters a bar with his friends . . .” Radhika Ramana wrote a two-page story about a man who was trying to practice spiritual life, but succumbed to temptation with his old friends. The man went through the stages of fall down that Krishna describes, but then picked himself up through good association.
Write for Back to Godhead
My son was very inspired and gained a lot of confidence in writing through the Gita course. Eventually Suresvara Prabhu suggested that he write for Back to Godhead magazine. Of course, this was a challenge in the beginning—the editors would send back the articles asking for substantial revision. Writing for BTG was a big step and brought out a new dimension to our home schooling. I also began looking for additional opportunities for him to write. The local newspaper in Boise had a weekly religion column where different faiths could present their philosophy and views on current topics. They accepted Radhika Ramana for representing the Hare Krishna faith. He wrote that column regularly for four years until he went to graduate school. This was a wonderful opportunity to reach people who would otherwise not be interested. The articles were well liked; he would get appreciative letters from readers and encouragement from his professors at the university.
While my older son was busy with assignments for BTG and the local newspaper, my younger son, Gopal, was writing in other areas. His style of writing is direct, upbeat and engaging. He would often write scripts for plays that we hosted in the temple. Children’s plays were our focus because we discovered that they provided an easy way to preach to their parents on Krishna consciousness. After seeing their children so joyful in play practice, it rekindled their desire to do service in the temple and participate fully in the temple programs.
Writing scripts is really hard work for children but an effective way of learning the language arts. For Gopal, it involved reading the story from the scriptures, summarizing and writing in a dialogue format, and editing for grammar and good flow. He did not mind the hard work because he loved acting and directing the play among his friends. It was a lot of fun.
My children also wrote essays about the upcoming festivals, appearance or disappearance days of our acharyas, visits to the holy dhama, or national parks for vacation. In the early years I encouraged them to write a few sentences in birthday or invitation cards to friends. The children of a homeschooled family in Boise write letters daily to Lord Jagannatha, Lord Baladeva, and Subhadra Devi after Snana-yatra when They are sick, asking Them to get well soon and bestow Their mercy.
An important point to remember is that writing is not something most children will do spontaneously or even willingly so we have to make it fun for them. The trick is to ask them to write about things they want to write about! Writing plays was fun for my children because they would actually see it happen.
Another task that primarily belonged to Gopal was publishing a temple newsletter. Every month he had to write a couple of articles for the newsletter, give the temple news and upcoming events. He also had a children’s corner where he created crossword puzzles and other fun Krishna conscious games. He learned responsibility, how to meet deadlines, and received hands-on experience with editing, publishing, copying, and mailing.
Writing for Krishna can be a very wonderful and satisfying service, and we should help our children see it in that way.
Aruddha Devi Dasi is a disciple of His Holiness Gopala Krishna Goswami Maharaja. She home-schooled her two children in USA, where she resides with her family. Her older son, Radhika Ramana Dasa (Dr. Ravi Gupta), holds a Ph.D in Hinduism from Oxford. He entered Boise State University at the age of 13, where he completed dual B.A. degrees in Philosophy and Mathematics with highest honors. Her second son Gopala Hari Dasa (Gopal Gupta) is currently working towards his Ph.D in Science and Religion at Oxford University. He entered Boise State University at the age of 12 where he completed a bachelor’s degree and M.Tech. in Electrical Engineering with highest honors.
Readers interested in learning more can join her internet group www.krishnahomeschool.com