DIY Meditation Sand Labyrinths

This is a sand labyrinth I've used as part of my personal practice for more than ten years.  Mindfully tracing the path in the sand with my fingers helps me to transition from a restless state to a place in my mind calm enough to meditate.  Whenever I bring this tool to my Meditation classes, the children respond in a similar way.  You can buy one here.

I wanted to find an affordable way to offer this tool to all of my students when they're at home.  So we made our own.  First we searched the internet for labyrinth patterns that we liked and printed them out.

I found these trays at a local craft store.  

The wood is impressionable enough that simply tracing over them in pencil will carve the pattern into the wood.

Next we carefully traced the pattern with a hot glue gun.   We laid about three layers of hot glue, giving time for each layer to dry before adding more to it.

After the glue had dried, and those little hot glue strands were pulled away, we were left with a pattern like this in each tray.   

Finally, the kids poured sand into their trays.

We took turns trying out each others meditation sand labyrinths.

While waiting for friends to finish their projects, one of my students created a walking labyrinth with random items he found in the classroom.

This led to an entire sequence of Mindfulness activities.  After tracing each sand tray, students mindfully walked through the mini-maze.

Then they'd trace a maze created on the chalkboard with an eraser and create a new maze for the child behind them. 

I love when activities like this magically flow from an orignial idea!

Try it with your kids and tell me how it works!

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

The Cunning Wolf: Keeping Promises to Yourself and Others

Recently we've been forming our class lessons and discussions around Demi's book Buddha Stories.

In today's story a cunning wolf decides to make pious promises when it seems convenient.  We learn that it's much easier to make a promise than to keep one.

I asked my youngest students to tell me what they knew about wolves.  It's helpful for the children to understand that wolves eat only meat and are very smart about catching their prey.  We looked at some pictures of wolves.

Before the story I asked, "Have you ever made a promise to yourself or to someone else that was very hard to keep?  This is a story about a wolf who had trouble keeping a promise."

To be sure the little ones followed the plot I asked the following questions:
  • Why wasn't the wolf able to get food?
  • What did he decide to do when he couldn't reach any prey?
  • What happened when he saw the goat?
  • Was he able to catch the goat?
  • The wolf decided that since the goat got away, he had kept his promise after all.  Did he really?
  • What did the Buddha tell him?
With each lesson based on a Jataka Tale, I try to remind my students that the Buddha's concern was to end suffering.  I used some examples from a child's life to encourage them to consider how this particular story can help us prevent suffering for both ourselves and others.

Example 1: You promise your mom or dad that you will clean your room.  Then you push all your toys under bed and shove all your dirty clothes in the closet.  Have you kept your promise?

Example 2:  You say to yourself, "I'm going to be generous and share my toys when my friend visits."  You only offer them the things you least enjoy playing with.  Have you kept your promise to yourself? 

Then I asked:
  • How does breaking a promise hurt ourselves? (We feel bad, frustrated, disappointed, ashamed.  We lose other's trust...)
  • How does breaking a promise hurt others?  (They feel disappointed, angry, no longer trust us...)
  • How do we feel about ourselves when we keep our promises? (good, proud, happy, trusted...)
  • How do others feel when we keep our promises? (Happy, relieved, proud)
  • Is it good to make lots and lots of promises? 
  • What can we do instead of making promises to keep ourselves more honest and dependable?  (We can say I'll try. We can save promises for the most important commitments.)
The younger children colored in a picture I made with a coloring page and a simple quote.  You can download a copy of it here.  We laminated the pictures and threaded them with yarn to make little bookmarks to take home.  If you don't have a laminator, just paste the picture on colored paper or cardstock. 

I used this lesson with my older children too.  Rather than read from the book, I combined the text of the story, along with an article from Psychology Today about keeping promises.  We read it aloud.  You can print out the story and article together here.

Afterwards I asked the following questions to create a discussion:
  • What distracted the wolf from his promise?
  • What could he have done differently when he saw the goat?
  • Do you think that deciding that he kept his promise will help him in the future?
  • Was it realistic of him to make such a promise?  
  • Did he make his promise for the right reason?  
  • What can we learn from this story about making promises in our own lives?
My older students never like to be left out of a craft or project opportunity.  I encouraged them to make their own bookmarks using this template.  The Psychology Today article recommended three questions to consider before making a promise:
  1. What's my motivation?
  2. Is this realistic?
  3. Is this crucial? 
Their bookmarks included these questions along with the quote, "It's easier to make a promise than to keep it."  

I love the empowerment this lesson gives us.  There are tools here for building trust, confidence, and honesty with ourselves and others.  What a gift for our children and everyone they encounter.

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

The Beautiful Parrots: Riches & Fame Come and Go Like the Wind

This lesson was shared with both my elementary and middle school students.

Buddha Stories by Demi beautifully illustrates 11 Jataka Tales. Most local libraries have a copy to lend.  It can also be purchased from bookstores in the US.  I chose this week's story from it's pages.

In this Jataka Tale, two lovely parrots are treasured as the king's favorite pets, at least until an entertaining little monkey arrives.  Suddenly the parrots are forgotten in the shadow of the new pet's funny faces.  An important lesson is learned about how quickly circumstances in our lives change and how difficult these changes become when we are too attached to things staying the same.

Before the tale I asked the children, "Have you ever felt replaced?  Maybe by a friend or sibling...Maybe you were the best at a sport and then someone joined the team who was even better than you... At school?  This is the story of two parrots who experienced the same feeling."

After the story I asked the younger children the following questions:

This is a lesson about expecting things to change.  We suffer less when we remember that things always change. 

I asked the children to offer examples of things that change.  They shared ideas about seasons, friendships, ages, jobs, homes... This lesson can open the door for young people to examine their thoughts and feelings about life events like the birth of a sibling, the loss of friendship, popularity, success and failures in sports and academics... Invite your students to visualize both the best and worst case scenarios in the things that matter most to them, making peace with both outcomes.  The ability to anticipate and accept change is a priceless tool.  Let's give it to our children as early as possible.

I found a cool parrot craft on Pinterest that I used with my younger students.

We added a quote from the story to our project.

We applied the words of the wise parrot to the folk song, Down By the Riverside:

Gain and loss and praise and blame
Pleasure, pain, dishonor, fame
Come and go like the spring.
                            (sing 2x's)
Why should a little parrot grieve?
                             ( 3x's)
Why should a little parrot sing?
                             ( 3x's)

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