Ideas for Nature Walks:

  • A picnic walk (everyone carries a small part of the final picnic).
  • Visit a local, organic farm.
  • On a hike: take care of your Second Body/Buddy. Include regular energy “checks” (Is your heart beating fast? Then, rest.)
  • Storytelling Walk.  Maybe a Guest Storyteller stops regularly to tell the story in sections.  Or one long stop to tell the whole story.  Or the kids tell stories they’ve prepared.
  • Collecting Walks.  Walk and collect special things from nature for the Nature Table, for a Poster, for Card Making or Stone Painting.
  • Partner walk.  One person leads the other who has their eyes shut, then switch who leads and who is being lead. (Have them pay attention to light and shadow, and awareness of directions, up and downhill, etc.)
  • All standing still, shut your eyes and open your ears. What do you hear? Later, reproduce the sounds heard.  Cars going by, cow, cock crow, bees, birds, voices, wind, etc.
  • Eyes shut, a partner leads you to touch a natural object. Explore it with eyes closed.
  • Walk barefoot and pay attention to the soles of your feet and their contact with the earth. This is a fun way to introduce walking meditation.
  • Cloud Meditation: Lie back on Earth and look at clouds.  Use your imagination.  Be inventive, imagine characters, stories.
  • Nature Mandalas:  Go for a walk, sit down and children practice making a mandala or any design using the natural objects around them: rocks, leaves, flowers, grass, dirt.  Take a Gallery Walk when children visit each other’s work of art. Or hold an exhibition with a non-competitive spirit so that all teams/ kids win.
  • Roll down a hill!
  • Observe a pond, then say, write, draw your observations.
  • Tell Nature Stories (trees, bees, birds, animals)
  • Make presentations on endangered species, birds, migrations, the sea, stars, nature.  This can be done by visiting specialists in the community, by a video or by interested kids themselves.

Special Trees

Take a nature walk, look at all the trees in the area. Each child looks for a tree which is special to him or her.

  • Children choose their “special tree”. They can introduce themselves to the tree and tell the tree some special qualities about themselves. Then, they can tell the tree what special qualities they can recognize in this tree. Practice really listening to this tree and try to hear if this tree had a name, what would it be called? Looking deeply at this tree, seeing all its wonderful qualities, the child can then give the tree a name.
  • Practice introducing a friend to this tree. Tell all the good qualities of the tree first and why you like it. Save the name as a surprise for later.
  • After listening to their tree, children write/draw their tree’s message to the world and share it with the group.
  • Children all sit at the base of their trees, listen to messages from their tree and from the stones, insects, moss, bark & leaves in the environs. Write this message on a piece of paper or draw the meaning of the message. Then: mail delivery time! Run to deliver this message to a friend’s tree.
  • Tree lemonade meditation – maybe with a buddy (second body). Enjoy sitting at the base of each other’s special tree. Tell tree stories at the foot of their tree or together in the bamboo thicket.
  • Pretend to become a tree. Enact getting planted as a seed, slowly sprouting up and unfolding branches. Then growing blossoms and leaves, and perhaps losing leaves in the autumn. Show what happens in a storm: with strong roots (live through the storm) and without strong roots (may get knocked down). Here we can also talk about how we as people also need to have strong roots-in our ancestors-in order to survive our life’s storms.
  • Practice tree pose as in yoga. Stand upright on one foot only, the other foot rests on the inside of the standing leg, hands can come together at the heart or with good balance above the head. Notice the difference when you root your foot into the ground (even if you only imagine it). Notice what happens when you fix your eyes on a single point in front of you and concentrate. What happens when you focus on your breath or on your abdomen? When do you have the “best” balance?
  • Sing “Standing Like a Tree” song. Encourage the children to take refuge in their tree whenever they need it and to visit it every day. It is a safe place, a place where they can just be, relax, and come back to themselves.

* Collective Project

Make tree cards (drawn or using objects from nature) of all the types of trees in the area. Find out the name and country of origin. Kids can get together and share the information they learned

Seeing Nature’s beauty in us:

protectingTake the children to a place outside and ask them to look around and see what in the natural surroundings they are attracted to, that they find beautiful. Ask them to choose one thing in their environment, whether it’s a tree, a pinecone, a mountain, a cloud, an animal, another person, or a breeze, that they love or appreciate.

Give them all a small piece of paper and pen/pencil. Invite them to write down: “I love ______ (the part of nature they have chosen) because ….” OR “______ (the part of nature they have chosen) is beautiful because ….” And they just need to write one or two sentences, something very simple. (For example, “I love the cypress tree because it is strong, fragrant, proud and at ease with itself.”)

Once they have written their sentences, ask them to turn over their paper and write the same exact sentence except they substitute themselves for the part of nature that they chose. (So, “I love myself because I am strong, fragrant, proud and at ease with myself.”)

Then they can reflect on how it feels to recognize in themselves the same qualities they appreciate in nature. It can become a good discussion/reflection on interbeing and our oneness with our environment, too.

Adapted from The Web of Life Imperative, by Michael J. Cohen

We shared this activity with the children in Deer Park’s family retreat in 2007. Sr. Susan and Br. Phap Dung led their group outside and asked the children to observe something beautiful in nature and to write a sentence describing that beauty. Then they had to write the same sentence, using the same words, but substituting themselves for the scene or object they had just written about. Sr. Susan helped the children with the second part of the exercise. The exercise is taken from Michael Cohen’s work and helps us to see that all the beauty we see around us is also the beauty within us. Only some of the poems had names on them, and we indicated them, and we are so grateful to all the children for sharing their beauty with us.

I love myself because:

I am so beautiful.

I offer comfort to others, friendliness to others, and my beauty is just me.

Liana

I love myself because:

I love the way I reach for the sky.

I love the way I hold my heart in welcome to the sun.

Patrick

I love myself because:

I am me.

I am a friend of other people, hoping you’ll be my friend.

Ben

I love myself because:

I offer love and nourishment and good food to others.

I love myself because:

I am so COOL!

I love myself because:

I am right here now very present.

I am good at thinking of deep truth.

I am good at reaching out to others people and sometimes I am sharp too.

Sarah

I love myself because:

I am very bright like the sun.

I am so beautiful.

I have gentleness and offer gentleness to others.

I am so beautiful.

Wow!

I love myself because:

Of the sound of my voice,

and the way I look so beautiful in my brightness.

When I move, I am so wonderful.

I make others happy.

Micah

I like myself because:

I make people feel calm, comfortable(like a shady tree).

I make people feel cheerful and not alone.

I make people feel that anything is possible.

I am full of peace, gentleness and peacefulness like a gentle sleep.

Megan

I love myself because:

I can be cool laying down or standing up.

I am happy to be a teenager soon and to be a boy so dignified looking.

Jasper

I love myself because:

I have brightness like the sun.

I give comfort like shade.

I give cooling happiness like breeze and I have beauty.

Katlyn

Asking Nature’s Permission:

On a walking meditation, or hike, or just within the retreat grounds, invite children to find a place outside that they are attracted to and interested in.

Invite them to approach this place in silence and to ask for permission to sit or just be there. They listen for a few moments to see how nature responds. They may receive a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. If the response is ‘no’, they can find another spot and ask again. You can explain that nature sometimes gives us a ‘no’ because the area is not safe for us or something in that area needs protection.

Then they spend a few minutes sitting quietly in the area they have chosen. Come back together and ask them to share about their experience. What attracted them to that spot? How did they feel nature’s response?

Some things that people share represent a ‘yes’ answer for them are a soft breeze, or the song of a bird, or a warm feeling in their chest. Some have shared that ‘no’ answers are a sharp or sudden sound, or an uncomfortable physical feeling, like getting stung by nettles or caught on thorns.

There are no right or wrong experiences. The exercise is simply to build our awareness and connection to nature and to cultivate our humility with regards to nature to relearn that we are part of nature and do not need to dominate it.

Adapted from The Web of Life Imperative by Michael J. Cohen

Watering Seeds Carefully: Giving our happiness seeds a chance to grow

From Mindfulness Bell Issue #34

Note:  What you might say is in boldface.  The answers to questions in parenthesis are the answers our children gave us.  You might need to reword the questions to get similar answers.

Here is what each child will need to do this experiment:

2 clear wide mouth jars or clear plastic cups (or cut off the top 1/4 of a clear plastic water bottle)

2 paper towels

Soil

8 lima or pinto beans

You’ll also need:

1 permanent marker

We’re going to plant some bean seeds.

Note:  Demonstrate and help the children as you give them the following directions:

Wrap the inside of one of your cups with a paper towel.

Carefully put soil inside the cup, behind the paper towel.  Fill it about 3/4 full.

Place 4 beans between the paper towel and the side of the cup.  Make a lot of space between the beans.  Like us, beans like freedom!

Please do the same with the other cup.

Note:  We use clear cups and paper towels so that children can watch as the beans grow roots and stems.

Let’s name your bean seeds.  One cup will be the home for your Happiness Beans; you will name your beans after ways that make you truly happy.  For example, does it make you happy when others smile at you?  Does it make you happy when you smile at others?  If so, you might like to name one of your beans “Smile”! Other names for your Happiness Beans might be mindfulness, generosity, freedom, safety, love, hope, sharing.

What makes you truly happy? (playing with my dog, being with my friends, sharing, irises)

With the permanent marker write the names of your beans on your cup.

Your other cup will be the home for your Unhappiness Beans; you will name your beans after ways that do not make you happy.  For example, does it make you unhappy when you or someone you know is angry?  If anger makes you unhappy, you might like to name one of your beans, “Anger.”  Other names for the Unhappiness Beans might be stinginess, fear, sadness, impatience, hurrying, jealousy.

What makes you unhappy? (fights, war, stealing, not sharing)

With our permanent marker write the names of your beans on your cup.

Discussion:

These beans are seeds.  If the causes and conditions are right, they will grow into bean plants.

What causes and conditions do you think need to happen to make the bean seeds grow into bean plants? (Soil, air, light and water.)

You have Happiness and Unhappiness bean seeds.  Which bean seeds do you want to grow? (Only the Happiness seeds)

How can you help the Happiness bean seeds grow? (Give them what they need: soil, air, water and light.)  How can you keep the Unhappiness bean seeds from growing? (Do not give them soil, air, water and/or light.)

Help the children water their Happiness Beans.  They should not water the Unhappiness Beans.

We people have things like seeds inside us, just like your bean cups.   We all have the seeds of smiling, mindfulness, generosity, freedom, safety, love, playing and sharing (and lots of other happy seeds!) inside of us.

Note:  Be sure to name the ways to be happy which children offered earlier.

We all also have the seeds of anger, stinginess, fear, impatience, hurrying, fighting, stealing, not sharing and jealousy (and lots of other unhappy seeds!) inside of us.

Note:  Be sure to name the “unhappy seeds ” which children offered earlier.

When the causes and conditions are right, our “seeds” grow, too.

Just like with our bean seeds, if we give our happy seeds soil, air, light and water, they will grow.  Of course, if we give the unhappy seeds in us the things they need, they will grow, too!

Just like with our bean seeds, we are the ones who get to decide which seeds will grow and which will not grow inside us.

What does it mean to give the seeds inside us air? (freedom, space, time)

What does it mean to give the seeds inside us light? (to notice our seeds; to shine the light on them.)

What are some ways we can water (and not water!) the seeds inside ourselves?

Note:  With some guidance, these are some ways our children thought of to water/not water the seeds of happiness and unhappiness in ourselves:

Practice:  “One way to water the seed of smiling is to smile a lot.”

Awareness:  “I water the seed of generosity when I notice that I am being generous.”

Don’t concentrate:  “One way to not water the seed of anger is to notice it but to not keep concentrating on it.”

Check my perceptions:  “I can ask, ‘Am I sure?’ when I start to get jealous of a friend.  Am I sure what my friend has is what I want?”

Act nice:  “One way to water the seed of love is to tell our friends that we love them.”

Say a Gatha:  “One way to water the seed of appreciation is to say the food Contemplations gatha.”

Breathe in and out:  “One way to not water the seed of fear is to pay attention to our breathing.”

Don’t watch mean TV shows or videos or listen to mean songs on the radio:  “One way to not water the seed of meanness is to watch only shows that are friendly and kind.”

Understand:  “When I start to get irritated at my dad or mom, I can try to understand why they did the thing that made me irritated.”

Take 3 Steps:  “One way to not water the seed of sadness is to take Three Steps. 1. Enjoy things that make me happy.  2. Notice when I am sad.  3. Later, when I am not sad anymore, think about what had made me sad and try to understand it and change it.”

Invite the children to take their happiness and unhappiness seeds home to care for.

(Two sources for grown-ups:  Transformation at the Base and The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, both by Thich Nhat Hanh)

Submitted by Terry Cortes-Vega

Baby Chicks: No Birth No Death

Note:  What the teacher might say is in bold.  The answers to questions in parenthesis are the answers our children gave us.  You might need to reword the questions to get similar answers.

Materials: Baby chicks (in a big box with a lid and breathing holes)

Activity:

We are going to hold the baby chicks, but before we do, would you like to bow to your chick before you pick it up? (yes)

Why? (to show it we know it has Buddha’s nature; to show our love to it, to respect it)

Before opening the box, let the children listen to the sounds the chicks make.  Our children decided their peeps are bells of mindfulness.

Demonstrate the best way to hold a chick:  bow to it, then tenderly pick it up with one hand under its body; hold its wings down gently with the other hand. Invite children to bow then pick up their chicks.  With very young children, the guide might pick the chick up out of the box and hand it to the child.  Allow the children time to enjoy holding, petting and talking to the chicks.  Return the chicks to their box.  Put the lid on tightly and set it aside.

Discussion:

Where did our chicks come from? (eggs)

Were our chicks born? (yes)

Were they born when they popped out of their eggs? (yes)

I don’t think so!  Being born means from nothing we become something.  Were our chicks nothing before they popped out of their eggs? (no…they were alive inside the eggs).

We’ve discovered that it is not correct to say that our chicks were born when they came out of their eggs because we know that they were alive inside the eggs.

Can we say that the chick was alive before it was inside the egg? (yes)

Can we say that the chick was partly alive in its mom and partly alive in its dad? (yes!)

Do you think that is true of people, too?  Let’s  look at ourselves.  When is your birthday? (Give children time to say their birthday.)

Why do you call that your birthday? (Because that is the day I came out of my mom.)

If we say that we are born on the day we come out of our mamas, it is like saying our chicks were born on the day they came out of their eggs.  And we know that is not true.

Were you nothing before you came out of your mom? (“No! I was alive when I was inside my mom.”  “My mom  said she could hear me and feel me move when I was inside of her.”)

What were you before you were alive in your mom?  Were you nothing? (“No!  I was an idea waiting to happen!” “I was a little egg.” “I was never nothing!”)

So where were you before you were in your mom? (“Part of me was inside my mom and part was inside my dad.”  “I was in my grandparents.”  “Hey! This could go back forever!”)

We can see that you have never been nothing!

Because being born means from nothing we become something…looking deeply, we can say that, like our chicks, we have never been born!

Or maybe we can say that we have always been born.  We have always been something; we have never been nothing.

Sometimes we have been an idea, sometimes we have been a part of other people, sometimes we are who we are right now.  Maybe we have even been a cloud or a flower or a river.

Our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says that the day we  call our birthday might better be called our Continuation day.  Why do you think he offers us that idea? (“To remind us that we have never been born.”  “We have always come from something.”   “We are continuing what our ancestors were continuing!”)

Next time you have a birthday party, you might invite your friends to sing Happy Continuation Day To You! (Children might want to sing the adapted Happy Birthday song to each other.)

If you have never been born, can you die? (No!)

How is it that you can stay alive?  How is it possible that you never die? (“Because you know me, I am an idea inside of you.  As long as you are alive I am alive.  Wait!  Then I will be alive in everyone you ever knew!”  “When I have children, I will be a part of them.”  “Am I alive in everything?!  I guess I am!”  “Hey!  This goes forward forever!”)

Why is it important to know that we have never been born and we can never die?

(“Because if you get sick and go to the hospital and they tell you that you are going to die you can say I will never die and when your family comes and they are sad you can say don’t be sad, I will never die.”  “Because if someone tells you that you’re going to die, you won’t be afraid because you’ll know it’s not true.”  “Because when we know we are alive in other people, we will take care of them better.”  “And!  We need to take care of ourselves, too, because if my friend is alive in me, then when I take care of myself, I’m taking care of her, too!”  “My babysitter’s nephew who is 7 died.  I’m going to tell her not to be sad because he can never die!”)

Review what the children have learned by summarizing or synthesizing what they have said, for example:

So knowing that we have never been born and that we will never die keeps us from being sad, keeps us from being afraid, gives us a way to comfort our friends and family, reminds us to take care of others because we are in them and reminds us to take care of ourselves because others are alive in us. Knowing we have never been born and that we will never die helps us be happy and helps us make others happy.

Submitted by Terry Cortes-Vega

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