I don’t know what it is about this place. Why is Baan Unrak a magical place? Is it because it sits on top of a hill with wonderful views of the lake and mountain? Or is it because of the fireflies that light up the jungle at night? Perhaps it’s the music that radiates from the loudspeakers, or the echo of children singing and playing? Perhaps it is all of these things.
But I want to tell you what makes Baan Unrak special to me. All our children are back to school now and everything has taken on a more regulated rhythm. The school day starts with an early rise for us to perform our personal and house duties by 7.30am. Then the children head off to school, a whole other world beyond our gates.
The morning is such a colorful sight. Children of all ages in different uniforms; red and blue, green and white, sometimes in brown and khaki, all sprawled around and mingled together. Among them are the little ones who look with wonder at their older brothers and sisters moving out into the big world. A mysterious world full of promise and hope. One day they will be there too.
In the meantime, the little ones can afford to get up late and take time to eat and play. But at 9 o’clock a bell is rung and they jump up from whatever they are doing. They will rush with their care-giver to a small gate hidden away in our backyard’s beautiful garden.
Behind the gate is another lovely garden full of brightly colored playground equipment.
The children will play on the swing and slippery dip and climb all over everything for a while until the care givers that have progressed to become teachers will appear at a very small door to call them inside.
Adults have to bow to enter because the door is small so only elves and tiny tots can enter easily. For this is an enchanted place, specially designed for children. Welcome to our indoor magic garden full of toys and games and secret passageways for kids.
Inside is quite different from the rest of Baan Unrak. It is very tidy and organized. Everything scaled down to the size of the children. Small doors, small tables, a small toilet and sink.
A small staircase leads through an enchanted tunnel to a place full of beautiful toys, a realm of fantasy.
The children are the leading characters in the drama that takes place here. The care givers and teachers are like fairies that initiate the children into the magical world of knowledge. Here the children will learn the basic disciplines of life.
When they enter, the children are allowed to play with everything in the hall that the kind fairies have prepared for the lesson of the day. As long as they play in a quiet manner, one toy at a time, they can play to their hearts’ content.
Once everything is returned tidily to its place, the morning circle will start.
They will sit in a circle and sing songs invoking care for each other, for animals, for plants and all living things. Morning circle is concluded with a meditation to get in touch with their inner soul. They sit very quietly, with a very straight posture, radiating love to everything and everyone.
Then it is time for a little snack to be given out. Sometimes the teacher will distribute, but sometimes a child will perform the act of giving. The child feels joy and honor because of the responsibility to make sure that everyone gets their fair share and is contented. It’s all very orderly and the benevolent fairies are always there to anticipate their needs.
Finally the fairies take them to sing and dance in front of the big TV with songs selected to introduce the lesson of the day.
After dancing and singing they do yoga exercises emulating the position of the animals. They learn to love and respect all the animals by trying to imitate their attributes. The songs and exercises are changed often to match the lesson of the day.
Then they will move to a different area to perform the ritual of the felt calendar.
The children have to place the name of the day, the month and the year and stick up a picture whether it’s cloudy or sunny outside. They fill up the calendar chart by sticking up numbers or words. It is a great way to learn how to measure the passing of time. They learn the difference between today, tomorrow and yesterday, and all the days before that. Each child gets the opportunity and honor to fill up the space with numbers and letters.
Then it’s time for the academic section. Through play they will learn many disciplines each week.
Thai on Monday
English on Tuesday
Math on Wednesday
Review Thai, English and Math on Thursday
Art and craft Friday
They learn with different play methods, with clay, with songs, with crayons, with paints, by drawing, doing jigsaw puzzles and building with blocks or using any material that we are lucky enough to get.
Our main teacher’s name is Melek, which means ‘little mother’ in English. She is a fine teacher.
Melek finished High School in Burma, but due to the conflict in her country, she could not continue her education, so she had to self-educate. She was such a good care mother at Baan Unrak, that the school borrowed her for one year. Then, after that, Melek came back. This is how she learned so many things.
A powerful teaching method Melek uses is storytelling.
She can keep the children spell bound for ages telling a story from a book. The spell doesn’t leave with the ending of the story. Different books are handed out to each child so they can turn the pages one by one and see for themselves how to navigate a non-digital fantasy world.
When the academic session is finished, the kids will learn table manners and hygiene. They queue up at the little sinks to wash their hands before sitting at their tiny tables to eat their little meal composed and quietly.
They learn to exercise the art of hospitality by serving food, and they sing a thank you song so they learn to be grateful for the food they are given.
Then they queue up at the sinks to wash their plate and brush their teeth.
Finally, it’s time to rest! (About time, I’m exhausted already just writing all this!). But if they want to play a little more they can ask their fairy teachers for something else to do before laying out their mats to lie down and rest.
The kindergarten finishes at 3pm. They wash their faces, comb their hair, apply talcum powder to their bodies then tidy up their sleeping place before saying goodbye to their fairy teachers.
The things they learn here and the self-discipline they acquire will remain with them for the rest of their lives. This is confirmed by the bigger children who nostalgically talk about their time at kindergarten and Melek teaching there.
Then the children will go back to the communal area of Baan Unrak to wait for their bigger brothers and sisters to return from school at 3.30pm so they can play together and watch them do their homework.
I think that this is the magic of Baan Unrak, that there is an effort to bring love and care to everyone and everything that surround us.