Middle Way Education’s Five Domains of Learning are linked to the qualities of the five elements—water, earth, fire, air, space. The Domains guide our approach to teaching and learning in five content areas and create a framework to insure a comprehensive education experience. Annual narrative progress reports written by our highly-experienced teachers illuminate how each child moves through these areas. There are layers of understanding that extend far beyond the surface of these domains, into the subtleties of human experience, which are being explored through teacher professional development. We extend our deep gratitude to Dee Joy Coulter, Marti Holley, Kristin Lhatso, and Steven Sachs for their work on the Five Domains of Learning in its earliest form at Eastern Sun Academy in Boulder, Colorado.





Water | Precision and Insight | Sciences

Just like water’s capacity to both reflect and be absorbed, the guiding principle of Precision and Insight cultivates an intelligence that is exact and penetrating. The domain of learning that arises from this principle is the Sciences, which include studies in logic, mathematics, systems, biological sciences, computer sciences, physical sciences, ecology, and Abhidharma. We approach the sciences with an emphasis on deep understanding, creative thinking, problem-solving, and mastery of skills and content. Curiosity is key to this process of learning; students learn to question assumptions and open up to greater levels of perception and innovation. Essential outcomes of this domain include increased discernment, cognitive and emotional flexibility, innovation, and the ability to observe, perceive, and understand one’s mind and the outer world with less rigidity. In this way, the sciences generate mirror-like precision and insight, building the capacity to focus on minute details while maintaining perspective of the big picture.

Earth | Appreciation and Connection | Humanities

Like the richness of earth, the principle of Appreciation and Connection cultivates a sense of diversity and abundance and an awareness of how all things are dependent. The domain of learning that arises from this guiding principle is the Humanities, which include the study of world history and culture, the human condition, literature, politics, world wisdom traditions, and Buddhist history and culture. To study the humanities is to delve into our heritage as human beings, to connect to the world in the context of all who have come before us and all who will follow. Students are supported in experiencing their lives as small but significant parts of a greater whole, bringing a grounded element to their education. Essential outcomes of this domain include increased humility, a deep respect for tradition, and the commitment to honor diversity without arrogance. In this way, the humanities generate a sense of appreciation and connection rooted in equanimity and the understanding that all things are dependent.

Fire | Authentic Communication | Arts

Just as fire results from elements coming into contact with each other to create a vivid, dynamic display, the principle of Authentic Communication relies on the spark of interpersonal connection to create the display of self-expression. The domain of learning that arises from this guiding principle is the Arts, which include the study of world languages, communication skills, community service, dance and theater, music, and visual and sculptural arts, and Buddhist traditional arts. Students are encouraged to exchange with the world and to explore and hone their creative energy, integrating personal meaning into their education. We approach the arts with an emphasis on understanding the dynamics of communication and authentic creative expression. Essential outcomes of this domain include increased compassion and empathy, a nuanced capacity for interpersonal exchange, an appreciation for the power of the artistic process, and the ability to express oneself without being self-absorbed. In this way, the arts generate a sensitive and discriminating awareness that ignites authentic communication.

Air | Synchronized Activity | Embodiment Disciplines

Just as air has the capacity for dynamic movement, the principle of Synchronized Activity brings inspiration, resourcefulness, and initiative into the process of learning. The domain of learning that arises from this guiding principle is the Embodiment disciplines Disciplines, which include studies in athletics, health and nutrition, sensory integration, activities that coordinate sensory experience with social skills, and body/mind activities. Students are supported in aligning action with intention. 

Embodiment disciplines synchronize mind and body. We approach this domain of learning with an emphasis on cultivating a relationship to form and freedom, synchronizing physical education with the student’s developmental potential. Essential outcomes include increased grace and ease, balanced levels of effort and effortlessness, a keen sense of timing, personal responsibility, and a strong sensory relationship to the natural world. Neurotic speed and ambition are tamed. In this way, the embodiment disciplines lead to accomplishment through synchronized activity.

Space | Awareness | Contemplative Practices

Just as space has a quality of total accommodation, the principle of Awareness guides some

 of the deepest learning we do as human beings, learning that requires the ability to remain open. The domain of learning that arises from this principle is the Contemplative Practices, which include the study of meditation, ritual, design and art, and other methods. Spaciousness permeates the process of learning, as students cultivate awareness and deepen their connection to the present moment. Contemplative practices require proper training from an authentic practitioner and a link to a lineage tradition. Essential outcomes include increased tolerance of ambiguity, impulse control, a habit of being in awe, and a sense of humor. The tendency to be absorbed by ignorance is lessened. In this way, contemplative practice generates the capacity to experience learning and life with an expanded sense of awareness.