We’re all like kids in the proverbial candy store…oo-ing and ahh-ing over the deliciousness of yoga, music and community that awaits us. Speaking of kids…did you know that Sat Nam Fest offers a most remarkable program for children? It’s true!
We caught up with Sat Nam Children’s Camp leader, Jai Fuller to learn more about it.
All I can say is… I kinda wish I was still a kid! This program is going to be STELLAR!
If you’d love to come to Sat Nam Fest West, but you’re not sure what to do with your kids while you’re away… Bring them along!! This program will knock their socks off in the best way possible, your hearts will open wider as a family, and the depth of connection you’ll all explore and experience together is destined to be amazing.
Read on to learn what Jai Fuller has in store for all those attending this year’s Sat Nam Children’s Camp at Sat Nam Fest West, April 8 – 12!
(First day of camp is Thursday, April 9)
Thanks so much for connecting with us to help us learn more about this year’s camp offerings, Jai!
Please share with us a little about your background… What drew you to your love of working with children?
I grew up in a family daycare setting. My Mother has always worked with children, since before I can remember. When I was school aged, I would excitedly arrive home off the bus eager to help out with the daycare children. I’d set up elaborate classroom scenes to pretend with them that I was the teacher, and they were my students. It has been with me for as long as I can remember.
My oldest and dearest friend, Sat Darshan (who worked as the SNF General Manager at the time) recruited me for the job. At the time I had never led programs of this nature, and wasn’t sure it was for me.
My previous experience had led me to believe that trying to lead a fun and successful program with a group of children that fluctuates from day to day would be very challenging to manage.
Once she convinced me to give it a try I was hooked. The energy at the Sat Nam Fest is so uplifting, and draws incredible families with beautiful children, who, I believe, have chosen to be born into families with parents who are yogis. Working with wise children like this is so rewarding!
The difficult dynamics I anticipated were easily managed in this vibration, with these people.
What is it that draws you back for more?
I think I pretty much answered this in the last question, but I will add that the East and West Coast festivals have become yearly highlights for me and my family. Not only is this a time for me to work with and serve the children, but there are many perks to this job! I love gathering with like-minded people, joining the group for early morning sadhana and evening chant concerts, and reuniting with friends from all over in this inspiring and festive energy!
What is your most favorite thing about the overall SNF experience?
I think it would be witnessing the participants, children, and their parents or other yoga students going through a transformation while participating in all the incredible yoga and devotional chanting that takes place. Being part of the beautiful SNF team that helps bring this experience to the participants, children and adults alike is a wonderful feeling!
I have made it a priority to bring my son along with me to these festivals whenever possible. Bringing children together in an environment like these festivals offers them so much that they generally don’t receive from school or other social settings.
To be exposed to a large diverse group of people who are all delving into their deep spiritual identity, I observe that my son leaves these festivals empowered about who he is and always with some incredible new friends.
What would you share to help put parents at ease that SNF is accepting and supportive of children’s presence at the festival?
It seems to me that everyone lights up at the sight of the children. Whether it’s in the dining areas, or in the yoga classes or running around the beautiful grounds, the general feel is that they are such a blessing, and all are eager to have them as part of their festival experience. Also, I find the variety of food options at every meal is very inviting for most families with kids. I can always find something that even the pickiest of children will enjoy.
Is there a particular theme that will be central to the Children’s Camp for SNF-West in Joshua Tree this coming April?
This Spring we will have the theme of meditation and healing. Our main project will be mala making. Each child in the program will have the opportunity to learn about how to use a mala for prayer and meditation. We’ll share the particular healing properties of the gem stones they’ll be working with to make their very own mala that they can then bring home to use for their own practice.
What do you love most about the experience of guiding the children that take part in the program?
Generally I enjoy their enthusiasm and their bright spirits. Many of the children have already been exposed to yoga, and are eager to be in a place with other kids who they can share their joy with.
But, I must say I get especially excited about the challenge of working with the children who come and – its all new! They don’t know anything about yoga yet, and they don’t think it’s for them.
Almost 100% of the time I witness a wonderful opening in these children as they become intrigued by what they see and hear…and the fun they witness the group having.
Parents of children like this usually are not sure it was a good idea to bring them to the festival, and worry they will not enjoy their time in the program. But when they return to pick up their child, they are pleasantly surprised to see them totally engaged with the group and find they are eager to return for the next session.
How does the child who’s never experienced anything like this before integrate?
I have a large repertoire of ice-breaker activities and games that we begin each day with. These help the children get to know each other and feel relaxed and safe in a new environment.
I also plan a wide variety of activities throughout each day, to give different ways of engaging various children’s personalities and interests. We spend a lot of time outside, exploring, hiking and playing non-competitive games. We always have an assortment of toys, books, arts and craft supplies, building activities games, etc. available to the children.
What is the age group that you cater to?
We welcome ages 4 through 12. We facilitate the needs of this broad range by having plenty of staff to enable us to break into groups for certain activities each day.
I have always preferred to work with children in a mixed age group. I believe that they benefit in numerous ways and gain social skills, i.e. patience, leadership, team-building etc., which can serve them tremendously throughout their life.
How many children usually participate in the program?
It varies from day to day. Thursday, our first day of camp, is always the smallest group. Sometimes as few as 10 kids, then by Saturday we get up over 20, often about 25, and Sunday is a little less than Saturday.
Do you have helpers? If so, who helps you?
I am blessed to bring along my mother to the festivals. She has extensive experience running her own holistic childcare for over 30 years, and brings all her wisdom, and her musicality and guitar accompaniment for our yoga classes and chanting.
We also have a few other festival participants working with us, who usually have professional experience working with children and are eager to be part of our team.
What variety of activities do you do with the youth throughout the days of the fest?
Please share an example of a day’s flow in the children’s program…
Children are welcomed in the morning to the room where many activities are set out to engage them. We begin with some free time to let them come in and explore the activities and the space, and for the parents to check their children in and meet and greet the staff.
After a bit, most of the children have arrived and we form a circle and introduce ourselves and then share about our plans for the day, and the weekend together, so the children know what to expect and what they can look forward to.
We take time to play some name games and ice breakers which help get everyone more relaxed and comfortable in our new group.
Next we’ll go into a fun yoga class which includes music, chanting, stories, relaxation etc.
Then it’s usually time for snack, and we often go outside to enjoy our snack together. We may take it with us and go exploring and find a nice spot to eat along a trail or near a beautiful water fountain. If the weather is nice, we may stay outside for the remainder of the morning, hiking, playing nature games, or doing team building activities and maybe some free creative play time if the children desire that.
When we meet in the afternoons after lunch, we delve into our creative crafting. Here we work on our mala making project. This is a time where we often split the group up by age, and while one group works on malas, the other participates in a sharing circle where we use sharing stick style communication to delve into a topic that ties into our crafting.
For example, we may ask the children to share about why we meditate, and how it works etc. We learn a lot during these circles, and the children shed a lot of light on these topics.
We then enjoy another yummy and nutritious afternoon snack break, and usually give the children some free time to play amongst themselves in a non-structured way.
We’ll often finish the day together with some songs and practice time for the children’s presentation when they are invited to join the Spirit Voyage artists on stage and share and sing and sometimes even dance for everyone at the festival! Definitely one of the highlights!
Please share some of the reflections you remember children sharing with you about their camp experience…
The things that stand out for me, are when kids come year after year, and start to worry as they get older if they’ll be allowed to participate once they’re 13.
I love having these teen alumni come back as helpers, and they seem to get a lot out of this, they also serve as great role models for the children in the program.
A child who had never taken a yoga class before, following their first class at the festival said,
“Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever felt this relaxed before…I wish school was like this! This is way more fun!”
The program is universal, and inclusive, and meets the needs of most parents and children. If you have any more specific concerns about your child’s needs, and if this will be a good fit for them, I am more than happy to speak with you. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
How well do the children integrate and support each other during the festival?
Many of the children come to the children’s program on their own, others have friends with them, or siblings. Some children participate for just a day, while others participate for the whole 5 days of the festival.
These variations normally would make it very challenging to bring the group together.
Having said this, the group dynamics at every festival I have worked, have come together extremely well. The wealth of experience I have teaching trust and team building skills to children is invaluable in settings like these.
Each day we take time get to know each other and new members of the group through fun activities and games. We also tune into the social dynamics that are at play within the group, and do our best to encourage inclusive and kind interactions.
Our goal is to pay attention and intervene well before things have a chance to escalate into disrespectful behavior and hurt feelings. The general mood and energy of the group is set each morning when we do our yoga and meditation together, and this I believe is ultimately why the children flow through our days together with such loving grace, ease and kindness.
For children, it’s a nice mix of meal times with their family and fun times together in the children’s program. This allows parents the space they need to delve deeply into their yoga classes and festival experience, but also offers some special opportunities to share this with their children.
One thing they can do together is morning sadhanas and evening concerts. From my experience as a parent, exposing my son to the vibration of a large group sadhana during the amrit vela (early morning hours) is a special treat, that can’t be created just any time or place. Even if he sleeps through it, he’s picking up on the energy and it has it’s effect on him.
I love seeing the children outside the structure of our program, and I think my feelings are felt by most of the people at the festival. Whether the children are sitting with their parent quietly during the early sadhana, or joyfully dancing through the crowd during one of the evening concerts, their innocent, bright spirits are a joy to have around us.
Wow! This program sounds…and will be truly amazing!
Thank you, Jai for your time and energy in responding to our questions.
You’ve beamed a brilliant light on the program; I just know this interview will help parents who are making the choice, to say YES! to traveling as a family to Sat Nam Fest West!
Bowing deep in gratitude for your passion and dedication to creating such profound and JOY filled experiences for the families that come to Sat Nam Fest!
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