This lesson was shared with children ages 5 to 8.
The story can be found in the books listed in the reference section or by clicking HERE.
Before the story the children were asked to recall a time when they felt sad for a person or animal who was suffering. I used a few images on a flannel board to keep their attention. An illustrated book or pictures drawn on paper would work fine too.
I placed the word Compassion on the flannel board above the story.
I asked, "What does it mean to have compassion?"
After some guesses I suggested, "Compassion is feeling sorry that someone is suffering and wanting them to not have to suffer."
Then I asked, "How did Siddhartha show compassion?"
(by feeling sad for the wounded swan and helping it)
"Why did the elders agree that the swan should be given to Siddhartha?"
(because he tried to give the swan life, not take life from him)
"How can we show compassion?"
(Some good promptings: at home, at school, to the sick, to the poor, to the sad, to animals...)
To conclude the lesson, the children used pictures of animals to decorate a paper with the words, "Be kind to all living beings."
As an alternative activity the children could make edible ornaments for wildlife. Winter is the best season for this since birds and other neighborhood wildlife are more dependent on us for food. There are some easy directions for making the ornaments here.
Keep it simple.
There were two key points I wanted the children to take away:
1. Even at a young age, Siddhartha felt compassion for living beings who were suffering.
2. Like Siddhartha, we should show kindness to all living beings.
Use what you have.
I cut out the pages of an old, outdated Animal Encyclopedia, but you could use old magazines, postcards, or encourage the children to draw pictures.
If you are working with older children, I would recommend using the lesson on Devadatta and the Swan found in Margaret Lisa Buschmann's Book (See Resources Section). Along with a deeper study of the story, she offers wonderful reflections on arguments and confrontation.
May all be free from suffering with the power of the Triple Gem.