Alaya Preschool has been part of the Contemplative Education Department since 1994. Alaya was founded in 1977 by students of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Naropa University’s founder. Over the years many of the students and graduates of the MA Contemplative Education program have taught at Alaya. Each year students in the program visit Alaya to tour and learn first-hand from the teachers about contemplative education. Even our MA students who are not early educators have always benefited from experiencing the Alaya learning climate and the contemplative relationship skills that are the hallmarks of the skilled Alaya teachers. The following information was provided by the school.
Alaya exists as a preschool in order to offer young children the warmth, nurturing and acceptance that allows them to trust and open to themselves and the challenges of the world. Alaya Preschool arises out of compassion: a caring for others. It is an expression of our dedication to help raise our children to be genuine to their hearts, to appreciate honesty and straightforwardness, to have delight and joy in relationships, to develop and feel good about the personal effort and discipline of accomplishments, and to gain awareness of and relax with the play of the world.
“Alaya” is a Sanskrit word. “The notion of alaya is one of origin or storehouse. In the word ‘himalaya’, him means ‘snow’ and alaya means ‘mountain range’, ‘big with snow’. “Alaya” means there are big things happening, primordial things taking place. . . And that is what we are trying to do. It’s just a basic part of existence.” (Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, 1978, at the opening of Alaya Preschool.)
Alaya believes that the nature and style of the learning process is as important as what is learned. Young children learn primarily through their senses and their bodies. Our emphasis is on social skills, language skills, and on emotional and physical growth and well-being. Activities include block-building, cooking, art (painting, clay, collage, sculpting, weaving, puppetry), dramatic and fantasy play, sand and water play, games and puzzles, stories, music (singing, movement and instruments), gardening, nature exploring, pets and outdoor play. Within Alaya’s homelike and nurturing environment, children are able to observe, experience and participate in simple, basic living (life) experiences: relationships, helping, sharing, preparing food, cleaning up and caring for plants and animals.
The rhythm of the day is the discipline in which the young child’s work is given some predictability. It allows the children and their teachers to relax within the forms of their day. A child’s experience throughout the day at Alaya arises out of the following forms and rhythms:
Entering: Greetings and welcoming the child and parent to Alaya. Teachers help the child in whatever way seems appropriate: exploring the environment; inviting the child to join an activity or social interaction; making one-on-one contact (a hug, holding, sharing some news or comment); giving time and space to stand back, look around and join in at the child’s own pace.
Cleaning Up: A sense of ending and new beginning. To start, the blocks are there, available, waiting. We reach out and a wall is built, rearranged; a tower grows taller, taller, then tumbles. There is a corral and pens to keep the animals safe and at home on the farm. Then a message brings us back to Alaya: it’s almost time for circle. The farm can stay for later, or if not, the blocks have their places, back on the shelf where they wait for play to begin next time.
Circle Time: A time to come together in a group, sitting on the floor in a circle (other shapes are fun too!). A nice time for a story, songs, games. There is always a lot to share and to talk about: a recent airplane trip, Grandma visiting, going to the dentist, new shoes. . . Also there is much to look at, touch, smell, hear, share and think about: a great big pumpkin from the garden, how soft the leaf of the Lamb’s Ear plant is, the scent of the muffins the children helped to bake for our snack, songs to sing again and again, why the roly-poly bug curls up in a ball when he’s touched, and so much more.
Snack: Washing hands, deciding where to sit, a little noise until the chairs are scooted in. It is good to come together, enjoying a moment of quiet, to settle bodies and relax before eating. Food is served and passed around. Children help with pouring, spreading, cutting. It is good to have nourishment. Conversation arises, food warms the body and the heart. As children finish, they ask to be excused. Napkins are placed in the wastebasket and dishes are placed on trays. Little hands like to squeeze the water from the sponges and wipe the tables. Alaya provides substantial, nutritious snacks in the morning and afternoon. Snacks are low in sugar and are vegetarian.
Outdoor Play: Little bodies need lots of fresh air, sunshine and large spaces to run, climb, dig, swing, jump, ride trikes, play ball and games, and to just play. Children’s energy is boundless, and those muscles need to move. The outdoors are so generous. Throughout the day at Alaya, the children have ample time to run and play.
A.M. Activity Time: Activities may vary depending upon the season. For instance, in the spring, the air is getting warmer. How does it feel? Let’s take a walk today. It’s warm enough, we don’t need our coats. We see changes beginning to happen outside: a robin building a nest, a crocus raising its golden head, little buds sprouting on bare tree limbs, children playing outside. Let’s paint a picture about our spring walk. What colors are like springtime? What colors are the flowers? We could visit a farm to see the baby calves. How do calves eat? Can you hear them calling their mothers when they are hungry? How does a little baby tell her mother that she’s hungry? Does anybody have a baby at home? Maybe the strawberries are growing in the garden. Let’s go see. Look, they’re red: they’re ripe. We could pick some for our snack. How do they taste? Let’s pick some lilacs for the table. They smell so fragrant. What do flowers need to grow? How does the bird build its nest? Why does the snow melt? When will the robin’s eggs hatch?
There is so much in the world to investigate and learn. Our bodies help us explore the world as our minds begin to understand. Teachers offer the children activities and materials from which they can see, touch, taste, smell, hear and think about the world, each other, and themselves: activities from which they can grow. In participating in the activity, the teacher’s personal example speaks most deeply to the child. By tuning in to the cycles and patterns of the earth and the seasons, we begin to recognize and understand our own development.
Lunch: Much like snack, although the children bring their own lunches prepared from home. There is always some anticipation to see what has been put in the lunch boxes today.
P.M. Nap or Rest: Some are at Alaya just for the morning (limited spaces available). After lunch they play for a bit, then they gather their belongings and exchange farewells with friends and teachers. The children who stay for the afternoon either have a nap or a short rest after lunchtime, depending upon their needs. Nappers help set up the cots with their blankets and pillows. It feels good to lie down with something special from home: a blanket, small rug, pillow, stuffed animal, doll; to lie still and just listen. The children are tucked in and stories are read or told while the children begin to settle down. Backs are rubbed and, if needed, children are rocked. Soft music often helps ease children to sleep. Rest lasts about an hour. ‘Nappers’ sleep as long as they like, generally 1–2 hours.
At Alaya, the classes are named for the Shambhala dignities: the Tiger, the Snow Lion and the Garuda . The Tiger group is made up of the toddlers, 2–3 years old (nine children with two teachers). These children are awakening, beginning to reach out and form friendships with each other, but they still need the security and comfort that a small group allows. The Snow Lions are the younger preschool group, for 3–4 year olds (thirteen children with two teachers). This is a group of children in transition. They are no longer babies. The world is there for them to fully explore and discover. The Garudas are the older preschool group for 4–5 year olds (seventeen children with two teachers). The children in this group are building the foundation to carry them into the world. The group is large enough to provide children with the opportunity to relate with each other in many types of situations and play, yet small enough to form special friendships with classmates and teachers.
Toddler Program: The Alaya toddler program is designed to provide high quality childcare for very young children in a warm and nurturing small group setting. The focus of our toddler program is to provide young children with the opportunity to begin their school experience with developmentally appropriate expectations and experiences. During their first year at Alaya, children develop social skills, language skills, self-help skills, large and small motor coordination, secure relationships with other children and adults and positive self-image in a rich, play-oriented environment. Attention is given to each child as a developing individual. Communication between parents and teachers is frequent and meaningful to provide an understanding of the whole child.
Home visits are made to toddler homes in August so the teacher can meet with children and their families in familiar surroundings. The first week of school children enter into the classroom schedule gradually. The first day of school is an open house with families and children attending for a block of time determined by the teachers. This gentle transition into the world of preschool honors the child’s need to process information in a concrete way and provides the opportunity for the young child to form a basic relationship of trust with their new caregivers. We believe that a gradual and compassionate transition period helps to relieve some of the separation problems that often present themselves in the first weeks of school.
Tipi Camp: In the summer, Alaya provides a day program for school-age children who are generally finishing first, second and third grades. The main base camp is a yurt-tent located in Alaya’s front yard. This group enrolls about 10–12 children with one adult counselor. The children spend time at the school as well as out in the community swimming, hiking and exploring Boulder’s many lovely parks. Specific information about registration and tuition rates is available each spring.
We are located in a house situated on a beautiful, fenced, tree-shaded acre with swings, sand areas, climbing trees and playhouses. There is a pottery shop. Each group has its own classroom or rooms arranged into interest and activity areas appropriate to the children’s development
The parent community is an important aspect of Alaya Preschool. Parents are encouraged to participate in their child’s classroom with a special activity (music, dance, cooking, etc.), accompanying the class on a field trip or just connecting with their child’s day. We require participation in Environment Days where the parents and staff have the opportunity to spend a few hours working together on some aspect of improving or maintaining the facility and environment. Parents may choose to pay a maintenance fee in lieu of participation. For purchasing new equipment and making major repairs and improvements we depend on fundraising and on parental support (all contributions are tax deductible). We require that each family volunteers ten service hours of their time each year toward the planning and organization of our annual fundraising activities or other designated projects. Parents may choose to pay a fundraising fee in lieu of fundraising events.
Alaya Preschool was created in 1977 by a group of parents and teachers under the direction of the late Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1940–1987). Originally a division of the Nalanda Foundation, Alaya is now a part of the Contemplative Education Department of Naropa University, which is a private, nonsectarian, college of the Arts and Humanities. Naropa, also founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, is the only North American college whose educational philosophy is rooted in the Buddhist contemplative tradition.