When I Make Silence

 This lesson can be shared with our youngest children, ages 4 - 7.

Jennifer Howard created this beautifully simple, peaceful book for her Montessori classroom.  She writes on her blog, " I wrote this book years ago to assist my 3-6 class with the Silence game. I found that providing examples of ways to make silence, especially for young children, assisted them with centering themselves and finding peace."  It is now a staple in most Montessori schools and Atriums.

Jennifer uses imagery like ocean waves, candles, and snowflakes to create mental images for our children of what silence looks and feels and sounds like.

You can order the book for $6 plus shipping through ParentChildPress or The Center for Children and Theology .  You can also email Jennifer through her blog if you would like to order a signed copy from her. 

For this lesson I used the following materials:
  • book: When I Make Silence
  • chime or gong ( I got mine here.)
  • a face clock
  • plain, white candle
  • candle snuffer (optional)

We sat in a circle on the floor.
Very quietly and calmly, I lit a candle.  They immediately grew calmer.
 First, we discussed the word silence.  I asked, "What is silence?  What does it mean?"
A few guesses came.  No noise...Not bothering your parents...Not talking
"Silence means not a sound."

Then we read the book together, taking time to talk about each image, connecting our own experiences to them.  Most of the kids will want to tell you about their summer vacations to the beach and the snow days.  Invite them to share and steer them back to the theme by asking questions like, "What did the waves do on the beach?  Can you imagine the waves as your belly goes in and out with each breath?" "How did the snow sound when it fell?" and so on.

Then very deliberately and rather ceremoniously I unwrapped my chime and placed it in front of me for all of them to see. "This is a chime.  I make it ring when I hit it with this striker. The special thing about this chime is that when I strike it, at first it makes a loud sound, but then it gets quieter and quieter.  It gets so quiet that sometimes it's hard to tell when the sound has actually stopped.  Let's sit very quietly and see if we can hear when the sound stops.  Close your eyes.  Don't open them until you can't hear the sound anymore."

They loved it.  They enjoyed it so much that I allowed each child to take a turn striking the chime while the others listened for the silence.

Then we listened for the clock.  With our eyes closed, we'd wait while someone struck the chime.  When the chime grew silent, we'd listen for the tick-tock of the clock.

Next we changed our focus to feeling our own heartbeats in silence.

Finally, I told the children that this time, after the chime went silent I was going to put out the candle.  Their job was to listen silently and keep their eyes closed until they could smell the smoke from the extinguished light.  Peace. Calm.  Stillness.  You could feel it in our little circle.

To end our session, the children were invited to choose one of the images from the book or an image of their own to create a picture titled, "When I Make Silence."
Once this lesson is introduced, this practice can be used on a regular basis, weekly even.  If your space allows, it would be nice to create a small area - a little table, mat, or spot on a low shelf with the book, chime, and images of peace.  This could be an area for children to visit individually or in small groups whenever they want to make silence.

And for goodness' sake, let's not worry about whether they are perfectly still and focused.  They're children.  Some will embrace this exercise from the first time it's presented.  Others will fidget, wander, play with lint balls from their pockets.  That's ok.  Few people cozy up to someone they've just met.  Let's let them get to know silence a little.  As they become more familiar, many will become friendly with it.  We're planting seeds, not necessarily reaping the harvest.

When I presented this lesson to my munchkins, one little guy in particular seemed to be missing the whole activity.  While his classmates sat with their eyes closed, smiling, waiting for the chime, he was bent over doodling.  "Oh, well," I thought, "Nothing's sinking in for him today..."  At the end of class he gave me the picture he was drawing.  He captured the chime and the candle and his classmates and his teacher sitting in a circle making silence.  A gentle reminder that my job is to share the teaching without judgment or assumptions about how it's received.

May all be free from suffering by the power of the Triple Gem!

The Noble Eightfold Path

This is the second half of a two part series inspired by the book Teach Me Buddhism by Asoka Ganhewa,
Souksomboun Sayasithsena, and Margaret Lisa Buschmann.  In this second lesson, the children will learn how to remember the Noble Eightfold Path with the help of MUSIC, GESTURES, and ART.

Mr. Sayasithsena created clever, simple hand motions to help children (and adults) remember the basic teachings of the Buddha.  My students enjoyed practicing them over and over.

1. Right View (or Understanding)

Point to the eye, looking for good things to do to help end suffering.
2. Right Thought
Put your hand over your heart because our thoughts should be loving and kind.
 3. Right Speech
Point to your mouth.

 4. Right Action
Look at your hands that do only good things.

 5. Right Livelihood (or Occupation)
Put your hand to your side as if your holding your lunch bag or briefcase.
 6. Right Effort
Make one hand push away the bad things and the other looking forward for good things to do.
7. Right Mindfulness
Point to your head.
8. Right Concentration
Lay one hand on top of the other, palms facing up as we do when we meditate.
Music is another wonderful tool for memorizing.  I arranged the ways of the path to the melody of Pachalbel's Canon.  I chose this piece for three reasons.  First, its tune is simple and peaceful.  Second, most children are familiar with the work already which makes it easier for them to focus on learning the lyrics.  And finally, Pachalbel's Canon is one of the world's most famous compositions.  It's frequently played at weddings, concerts, and other occasions.  Each time I hear this canon now, I'm reminded of the Noble Eightfold Path.  My students will be too.  Sneaky, eh?
You can learn the song by clicking here.

Last, we considered the path through art.  The children recognize this Buddhist symbol as the Dhamma Chakra.  Some of them had not realized that each spoke of the wheel represented part of the Noble Eightfold Path.  The children made their own Dhamma Chakras, labeling each spoke.  

Together, the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path are the heart of the Buddha's teachings.  I plan to return to these lessons again and again, incorporating games and songs to help my students remember what it means to be a Buddhist.

May all be free from suffering by the power of the Triple Gem!

The Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths

I'm excited to share this wonderful lesson that began with an idea from Mr. Souksomboun Sayasithsena!  He created clever, simple hand motions to help children (and adults) remember the basic teachings of the Buddha.

Together with his friends, Asoka Ganhewa and Margaret Lisa Buschmann, they created a book titled Teach Me Buddhism.  You can find a pdf of the book by clicking here.

Real life illustrations and simple texts are used to share the heart of Buddhism with young children.  I broke the book up into two lessons: The Four Noble Truths and The Noble Eightfold Path.

On a personal note, I first discovered Buddhism in a little book written by His Holiness the Dalai Lama titled The Way to Freedom.  While preparing to teach this lesson to my kids I decided to reread the section devoted to the Four Noble Truths.  If you'd like to read it too, you can find a free pdf of the book by clicking here.

My students really enjoyed expressing the Four Noble Truths in the gestures taught in the book:

1.  Life is full of suffering.
Place hands on your head like someone who is unhappy.

2. The Causes of Suffering:
They stem from wanting what we cannot have and having what we do not want.
Roll arms around and around each other like our thoughts of want going around and around.

3. There Is An End to Suffering.
Put hands on your heart and show happiness.

4. The Noble Eightfold Path Leads Us Away from Suffering.
Hold up eight fingers for the eightfold path.
Once we finished reading the book and learning the signs, we made games to memorize them.  You could pass a ball or beanbag or call out a name at random.  At each turn the child must show the correct sign.

Try a dancing game where the children must freeze when the music stops and make the sign as you call out,  "SHOW ME THE FOURTH NOBLE TRUTH!"

To reinforce the lesson I invited the younger children to make "Butterflies of Truth".
We kept it simple, using cardstock, crayons, and popsicle sticks.
Once again, my older students were disappointed that they couldn't make the butterflies as well.  You'd think by now I'd learn to ALWAYS assume that they'll want to do the crafts (even when they seem better suited for the munchkins) and bring enough supplies.    I'm a s-l-l-l-ow learner. 

So I promised my upper elementary and middle school students that next week their lesson would definitely include a project on the Noble Eightfold Path.

May all beings be free from suffering by the power of the Triple Gem!