“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
This question is asked as early as preschool and is repeatedly asked throughout a child’s educational journey all the way to college. We want our children to have a direction and purpose, and to ultimately be successful. And yet success is often defined materially as in having a well-paying job. But life is about so much more than the ability to earn money. What if success has a broader meaning: to become a mature, confident, happy human being?
Enter “Education for Life” (EFL), a philosophy that has transformed lives and broadened learning and teaching in schools around the world for over forty years. EFL focuses on teaching “how-to-live” skills such as effective communication, developing focus and concentration, how to relate compassionately to others, among many other skills that equip children with practical learning tools.
An example of that practical approach can be found in one of EFL’s central precepts: the definition of maturity. J. Donald Walter, the founder of EFL, defines maturity as the ability to relate appropriately to realities other than one’s own. From that profoundly simple definition springs a lifelong opportunity to grow, to learn from life’s lessons, to learn from one another, and to attain inner-balance and harmony from four specific tools of maturity. They are:
- The body: the ability to exercise, to have the body work for rather than against This is especially important in a child’s early years (1-6) as they learn how to coordinate and discipline it. Uplifting activities like PE classes, drama, and yoga at our school provide a fun environment yet conducive to education.
- The feelings: from ages 6-12 children identify strongly with their feelings. Encouraging them to articulate these feelings, to channel these feelings productively, and to understand these emotions objectively are main goals of EFL during this time. Children can be easily inspired from stories containing beautiful life lessons.
- Will power: the teenage years (12-18) represent a chance to positively cultivate strength and independence. The negative aspects of this age are well known: rejection of tradition and values, rebellion, the creation of bad habits, etc. To address this will power must not be curbed but given a constructive outlet of expression: offering challenges and service opportunities so they begin to understand the world that exists around them and their connection to it.
- Intellect: during this time young adults (18-24) will stay up late into the early morning discussing philosophy, religion/spirituality, social concerns, and politics. Teachers and parents should encourage young adults to reason clearly and effectively. By this point all four tools of maturity should be in sync opening the door for a lifetime of learning.
Recognizing the unique individuality of children, the EFL approach can account for a child at any stage of his/her journey to maturity. These tools of maturity are not confined to the above age groups; they are all within each person at any one point in time. However they tend to predominate in the ages listed above. Our focus is to understand a child’s reality and then encourage him/her to expand beyond that reality in preparation for life’s challenges. Our endeavor to make learning practical allows children to take ideas and implement them whether it’s using yoga to control one’s body, meditation to calm one’s emotions, or critical thinking to solve a mathematical problem. Ultimately, EFL provides students the freedom to realize their full potential as blended beings – physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.
Writing inspired by J. Donald Walters’ “Education for Life” and his piece “What is Education for Life?”.