About Bal Kendra
Blossoming little minds.
SANSKAARS: The birth of your child, its first words, its first certificate/trophy in school, and right up until the moment they get on that stage for graduation and throw their hats in the air... A moment which all parents treasure. So where does Sanskaars come in?
It's actually the key element parents wish to instil into their kids from the youngest age possible, so they grow up making the right independent decisions for themselves. As some may agree, religion goes hand in hand with Sanskaars. This doesn't mean spending 24/7 in Mandir, it's about teaching the child its roots and the basics of its religion, as well as living humanely. Isn't it beneficial for a child to develop spiritually from a young age, be proud and comfortable with their religion when they are progressing in these major milestones, rather than grow up clueless about it?
Bal Kendra has been running in Shree Swaminarayan Temple, Willesden, for 8 years now. Around 50 children from the ages of 4-7 gather to sing Aarti, in their loud, carefree voices. This is then followed by an intriguing memory activity, where they together, try and remember the Shangaar of our Beloved Ghanshyam Maharaj downstairs and revise the way to do Darshan and Pooja. The teachers at Bal Kendra commit a lot of time into revising the daily routines with the child like remembering Ghanshyam Maharaj and His names as soon as they wake up. Furthermore, they recite a new Bal Leela of Maharaj, weekly and explain the importance of any upcoming festivals that week, which the kids are keen to ask lots of questions about.
The children are split into 5 classes with 2 teachers per class. They remain in BalKendra for 3 years and the classes are set up as Year 1 (age 4-5), Year 2 (age 5-6) and Year 3 (age 6-7). At the end of their third year, they sit an exam where they all achieve excellent results (average: 70-99%). They then move on to Gujarati School.
An example of a typical Saturday at BalKendra comprises of:
- 5.00pm to 5.20pm – Collectively sing aarti, prayer and a kirtan. Learn & discuss Ghanshyam’s shanghaar for the day.
- 5.20pm to 6.15pm - in their classes, learn why and how we observe Ekadashi. Learn good behaviour at home, school and at the temple; and learn how to respect all around. Creative work such as colouring, puzzles and making cards. They are also given homework (and marks earn points).
- 6.15pm to 6.45pm - Listen and interactively discuss a Ghanshyam Leela. Have a quiz with prizes, sing thaal and offer bhojan to Ghanshyam. Then prashad is distributed to children.
- 6.45pm to 7.00pm - Play a game, Ghanshyam & Kalidat (ie: duck & goose, Simon says, Chinese whispers) or some form of exercise. Finally sing a dhun to end the session.
The children celebrate and learn about all festivals and do related activities. These include:
- Makra Sakranti – kites are made
- Holi - children traditionally play with coloured powder
- Diwali - cards, divas and rangolis are made and displayed
- Maha Shivratri - religious movies show (not forgetting the popcorn)
- India’s Independence and Republic Day - India flags are made and Indian national anthem is sung
To make each child feel special and a part of the group, we even celebrate their own birthdays.
Annually, they have a Christmas Fun Day, where they are able to engage with other new young attendees and eat tasty food as well as having a jump on the bouncy castle, being face painted like lions and princesses and participating in games! Lastly, the Bal Kendra prepare themselves for their event on stage, yearly, during Patotsav. They amaze the crowd by their eagerness to learn at such a young age and present their ability for all to watch. The teachers are so proud to show the talents of these children and their little minds, blossoming with so much imagination, colour and determination.
The Bal Kendra as a whole is a pivotal couple of hours given to just the little treasures, once a week, where they can have fun and discover their religion and roots and also take on some essential life skills such as learning to share and involving one another. There is a lot more Sanskaars that they pick up in Bal Kendra but it's up to the elders to send their children so one day they are able to pass these on.
The main objective from the assistants was to "Give Sanskaar, morals and principles from a small age, giving their lives a good start with such values". The Bal Kendra takes place every Saturday from 5.00pm-7.00pm in the wedding hall.