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."
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!