meditation resources for children

“Now I Know That Silly Hopes and Fears Will Just Make Wrinkles on My Face” by Sally Devorsine

This lovely children’s book has been test-driven by my five-year-old daughter, and found to be engaging and illuminating. In my amateur estimation it would be suitable for children considerably older — at least up to the age of eight or nine.

Now I Know (the full title is “Now I Know That Silly Hopes and Fears Will Just Make Wrinkles on My Face”) is the first of a series, also called Now I Know, described as a “Collection of Retro Cool Wisdom for Kids.” This series of children’s books is written and illustrated by Sally Devorsine, who lives in Bhutan, where she teaches a western school curriculum to young monks.

Title: Now I Know That Silly Hopes and Fears Will Just Make Wrinkles on My Face
Author: Sally Devorsine
Publisher: Chocolate Sauce Books
ISBN:
Available from: Chocolate Sauce Books as a e-book or hardback, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

The series and endorsed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and the first book includes a brief commentary by the French-born Tibetan Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard, who is a well known author in his own right, and a friend of the Dalai Lama and of neuroscience researcher Richie Davidson.

The Now I Know Collection intends to apply ancient wisdom “to help kids young and old solve real-life issues in today’s complicated world.”

We follow the adventures of Megan, a young girl who loves meeting new people and who has a strong streak of kindness and consideration toward others. When a new girl, Hazel, arrives in class, Megan is quick to befriend her and to show her around, but unfortunately she neglects her existing friends.

As part of her “induction tour,” Megan introduces Hazel to the “Testing Tree,” which the local children use in competitions in order to see who can climb the highest. When Hazel succeeds in climbing higher than anyone before her, she suddenly becomes the “popular girl,” and Megan feels isolated and resentful.

Fortunately Megan has a kind and wise advisor in the form of her teacher, Ms. Sage, who helps her to understand that she has built up a “storyline” in her head, in which Hazel is her “best friend” who has abandoned her. But Hazel has made no such promise, and is unaware of Megan’s hopes. Ms. Sage helps Megan to see that her thoughts about the situation, rather than the situation itself, is what’s causing her suffering, that her old friends are missing her, and that in fact she did a good think by helping Hazel adjust to her new school.

Once she lets go of her resentment, Megan actually talks to Hazel and finds that their friendship still exists (it always has, except in Megan’s head!).

Now I Know is well-written, lively, and beautifully illustrated. There are some questions at the end to help children reflect a little more deeply on the lessons of the story, and also a quote from the 12th century teacher, Langri Thangpa, on seeing those who hurt us as our teachers (although of course in this case it was Hazel who hurt herself.

The book manages to convey a message without seeming preachy. The tale effectively illustrates how we can create our own suffering through the storylines we spin for ourselves. Of course in this particular tale, no one did anything harmful to another person. Hazel never purposely abandoned her friendship with Megan, and so no betrayal was involved. Some readers may play the “yes, but…” game, where they wonder how this teaching would apply if Megan really had been deserted by her new friend, or if her old friends had shunned her permanently. And indeed such things are a daily reality for many children. But one children’s book can’t address every painful situation that can arise in young people’s lives, and it would be unfair to do so here. The basic principle that our thoughts can create suffering from nothing, or magnify a genuine suffering, can be applied by parents as they help their children to navigate life’s emotional challenges.

The fact that one children’s book can’t address every painful situation that can arise in young people’s lives is a good reason for having a series like Now I Know, and I look forward to reading other books in the series to my children.

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Silence is golden: how keeping quiet in the classroom can boost results

Encouraging pupils to keep noise to a minimum has substantial benefits and should become a valuable component of all children’s education, it is claimed.

Dr Helen Lees, from Stirling University’s school of education, said that “enforced silence” was seen as a punishment and often acted to suppress children’s natural ability.

But she said that teaching children about the benefits of “strong silence” – deliberate stillness that gives them the opportunity to focus and reflect in a stress-free environment – can have a significant effect on pupils’ concentration and behaviour.

The conclusions are made in a new book – Silence in Schools – to …

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“Buddha at Bedtime,” by Dharmachari Nagaraja

Buddha at Bedtime

Recently I walked into a bookstore and saw a spine bearing the title “Buddha at Bedtime.” As the father of two young children who always want a good story at bedtime, I was delighted to know that this book existed. I was even more delighted — and surprised — when I pulled the book from the shelf and realized that I knew the author, Nagaraja.

So for full disclosure, I first met Nagaraja at the Glasgow Buddhist Center over 20 years ago, and although we’ve never been close friends, we were ordained together and I’ve sometimes asked him to review books for me. But our connection is weak enough that his book could be out for almost two years before I stumbled upon it.

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Nagaraja is a regular guest presenter on BBC Radio 2, where he used traditional Buddhist tales to communicate the Buddha’s teachings to a UK audience of 7.7 million people. He has been a practicing Buddhist since 1988, was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order in 1993, and went on to teach at and manage the Covent Garden Meditation Centre, London. He has now returned to his native Scotland, where he is now involved with the Glasgow Buddhist Centre and works as a psychotherapist.

Title: Buddha at Bedtime
Author: Dharmachari Nagaraja
Publisher: Duncan Baird
ISBN: 978-1-84483-596-6
Available from: Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

Buddha at Bedtime is a collection of jataka stories, which are traditional folk-tales that have been incorporated into the Buddhist tradition. In the jatakas, the hero, who is often an animal, is said to be the Buddha in a previous life. The stories are similar to many of Aesop’s fables, and both traditions may well have been drawn from a common pool of tales that circulated among many cultures from Europe, across the Middle East, to India. Each tale illustrates a particular virtue, such as courage, thinking before speaking, or responding with intelligence rather than violence.

Buddha at Bedtime contains adaptations of twenty such jatakas. The stories are westernized to some extent, so that the characters names tend to be recognizable rather than foreign-sounding. Whereas a young girl in the original Indian version might be called Nandavati or Sundari, the corresponding character in Nagaraja’s version might be Rosalina or Polly. Additionally, the protagonist of the story is never explicitly named as being “the bodhisatta” (the Buddha before his enlightenment). These changes help to make the stories more contemporary and accessible. Additionally, Nagaraja has chosen not to stick slavishly to the original plot, which I think is wise, and in keeping with the original tradition of storytelling, where each teller of the tale would add his or her own embellishments while respecting the essence of the narrative. A couple of times I wished that Nagaraja had gone a bit further and changed the few references to “the gods,” although that’s just my taste.

Nagaraja is an effective storyteller. Each story has a short introductory teaser that gives a preview of the forthcoming attractions. Every time I got to the line “Would you like to know what happened?” I was surprised to hear my children yell “yes!” It’s a clever technique, using questions as a way to generate engagement. The language is simple and vivid, and yet the book doesn’t condescend. Here’s a randomly chosen sentence from “Two Ducks and a Turtle”:

For many years, he was quite content swimming lazily around the large pond, or basking in the sun on top of one of the big, rubbery, green lily pads that covered its surface. Sometimes, he would snap at a passing dragonfly, or try to catch a fat, juicy water beetle to eat.

The stories end with a moral, expressed in two or three sentences. For example, at the conclusion of “The Grateful Bull” we read:

It’s all too easy to lose our patience with people and act unkindly. A wise person knows that showing kindness and compassion is the most effective way to bring out the best in others.

These morals are as appropriate for adult readers as they are for young listeners, and perhaps even more so. I had the impression that my children’s attention had been lost the moment the story ended and that the explicitly stated moral was lost on them, but after a sometimes hassle-packed bedtime routine I sometimes found myself reflecting on how my own behavior could be more ethically skillful and kind.

The book is intended to be meditative as well: a natural meditative absorption that trains young minds in vitakka or continuous attention. Each tale begins with the words, “Relax, be very still, and listen — listen carefully to this tale…” There’s also a section at the end with child-friendly guided meditations, which I successfully tried out on my four-year-old daughter.

Buddha at Bedtime looks gorgeous. Each story is preceded by a detailed full-page illustration, and the following pages are decorated with elements extracted from the main image. The colors are rich and vibrant, and both the human and the animal characters are expressive and dynamic.

My only quibble with Buddha at Bedtime is a small one. The image of “the Buddha” accompanying the moral at the end of each tale is not the Buddha at all, but is the fat, jolly character that one sees referred to as “the laughing Buddha.” This personage is actually Po-Tei (Chinese) or Ho-Tei (Japanese) and he was a folkloric monk who has been granted the status of a household deity representing prosperity. He is a character who smiles despite having little, and who is portrayed as being generous. He carries a sack (his name means cloth sack) and in the Zen tradition he’s said to give gifts to children. Confusing Potei with the Buddha is rather like confusing Santa Claus with Christ. Rather than being portrayed as fat, the Buddha is always depicted as being slender, and he’s never portrayed as laughing, but as smiling serenely. If there’s a second edition of Buddha at Bedtime, I hope that the illustrations can be corrected. A Chinese book called “Jesus at Bedtime” where Jesus had been replaced with Santa would properly evoke wry laughter. Its time to lose the cultural confusion over Hotei and the Buddha.

That aside, this is a wonderful book. Ultimately in a book such as this the reviewer is the child. I’d expected that it would take close to three weeks to read the entire book — one story a night for twenty nights but due to demands placed on me by my two tiny tyrants we ended up reading Buddha at Bedtime in just over a week. My daughter still asks specifically for the book, and had two stories read to her just last night. There are some suggested meditation exercises that I haven’t yet tried out with my kids.

I would highly recommend Nagaraja’s book to all parents of young children, whether Buddhist or not. I’m expecting to be reading this book over, and over, and over — for many months to come.

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Meditation: a new teaching aid for young children

Serene students at Mona Vale’s Sacred Heart Primary School have been enlightened by a new program that combines meditation with education.

Designed by two of the school’s teachers in line with the New South Wales syllabus, the program focuses on relaxation techniques for primary students and aims to improve focus in the classroom.

Program developer and primary teacher Susan Rudd said students were delighted by the new teaching approach.

‘‘They absolutely love it, I don’t think I have met any child that hasn’t enjoyed meditation and those that find it difficult initially, over a course of a few weeks, are gradually able to do it,’’ Ms Rudd said.

The program became a part of the curriculum after students aged five to 12 ditched recreation for relaxation and joined a lunchtime meditation class.

Ms Rudd said meditation was particularly useful for children with anxiety, hyperactivity or ADHD disorders.

‘‘It allows them to increase their concentration by focusing on their breathing and finding stillness,’’ she said.

With the northern beaches school at its forefront, the program is gaining momentum with Chatswood and St Ives Public schools also using the program.

‘‘It creates a good environment for teaching and for the students to learn the curriculum because it’s a good visualisation skill,’’ Ms Rudd said.

[via The Manly Daily: Please visit the Manly Daily’s site and post a comment on this story]
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“Baby Buddhas: A Guide for Teaching Meditation to Children” by Lisa Desmond

Baby Buddhas, by Lisa Desmond

When we think of a meditation class we generally think of a group of adults sitting quietly. But is it possible to make meditation accessible even to young children? Bodhipaksa has been taking lessons from Lisa Desmond’s book, Baby Buddhas, and finds that he’s learned, or perhaps relearned, a new language.

I taught my first meditation course almost 20 years ago now, and yet I’d feel at a loss teaching meditation to children because my entire experience of acting as a meditation guide has been with adults.

True, when I was the director of a Buddhist Center in Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, we’d sometimes have groups of schoolkids as young as 11 or 12 come for visits, and I successfully taught them a stripped-down version of the mindfulness of breathing practice. But in essence I treated them as young adults. Incidentally, that worked for most of the girls, who were generally pretty mature and who got a lot out of the short sessions of meditation we did, but for many of the boys a five minute period where everyone had their eyes closed was too invaluable an opportunity for mischief to be overlooked. Clearly, my grown-up style of teaching didn’t appeal to those below a certain level of maturity. How would I have fared with a class of five-year-olds? To be honest, I think I wouldn’t have tried meditating with them at all.

In essence I simply would have no idea where to begin teaching pre-school age children how to meditate. I just don’t speak the language. And that’s a shame, since I have a daughter who’s now almost 15 months old and who’s growing up rapidly. At some stage I’ll want to teach her how to work with her mind. Thankfully, I now have some tools available, thanks to Lisa Desmond’s excellent book, Baby Buddhas.

Desmond understands children. She understands how they learn (“The children will mimic you — the way you speak, how you breathe, how you sit and hold your head, how you fold your hands — so be a good model”). She understands the importance of ritual and reverence (“Store your sacred items on your altar and let the children know that they may not play with them — these objects are not toys”). She understands children’s sensitivities (“Do not comment on the way the children breathe”). She respects and trusts the adults who may attempt to teach meditation to pre-schoolers (“Trust your intuition”).

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All these gems, by the way, are from just one two-page chapter of Baby Buddhas. Those two pages (five and six) contain so much practical wisdom that reading those alone will give you at least half of what you need to know in order to start teaching meditation to children. The other half consists of the specific meditation techniques that she outlines. The “third half” (if you will allow me such an indulgence) is experience and the learning that comes with experience. And that is something no book can give you, although this book will help you to take the plunge and gain such experience.

Baby Buddhas is laid out in a very attractive style, with some delightful photographic illustrations of children (and adults) joyfully meditating, and with some practical illustrations of useful equipment and how to use it.

The instructions are clear, and could be followed by any interested adult and not just by an experienced meditation teacher. Each meditation includes a list of materials, suggestions for evocative and useful terms that can be used, suggested uses for that particular meditation, and space for noting your own creative ideas. There then follows a step-by-step guide to the meditation that covers everything from how to arrange the cushions, to a suggested script that includes not just the words that one might say (“We are going to sit with our legs crossed, our backs straight, and our heads held high”) but also stage directions (“Long exaggerated breath in, long exaggerated breath out”).

The meditation exercises covered include the “Sunshine Meditation” (a simple form of metta bhavana, or lovingkindness meditation), an “OM Meditation,” a “Cleansing Breath Meditation, a walking meditation, and several others. Also included are two meditations for adults — one a way for adults to honor each other and to understand that we all wish to raise our children to be at peace, and another for sending love to a child in a time of need.

I can’t imagine a better book on meditation for children of pre-school age. Desmond’s book achieves the goal of teaching meditation in a language that young children can understand — a language, moreover, that I am pleased to find that I recognize and resonate with.

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Tips for successfully teaching meditation to children

Lisa Desmond’s beautiful and practical book on teaching meditation to pre-school age children, “Baby Buddhas,” contains the following excellent advice for those wanting to teach meditation to tots.

Some of these suggestions could be useful to those who teach meditation to adults as well!

  • Speak in a soft, kind, loving voice.
  • Smile.
  • Be joyful yet serious.
  • Store your sacred items on your altar and let the children know that they may not play with them — these objects are not toys.
  • Practice the meditations on your own, so you are comfortable.
  • At night, use soft lighting.
  • Make eye contact when appropriate.
  • Do not comment on the way the children breathe.
  • Do not comment on whether or not their eyes are open or closed.
  • The children will mimic you-the way you speak, how you breathe, how you sit and hold your head, how you hold your hands — so be a good model.
  • Place a singing bowl, crystal, picture, or statue in the center of the circle so the children have something to focus on.
  • Start with the shorter meditations and progress to the longer meditations.
  • Know your intent: What do you want to teach with the meditation and why?
  • Gently end a meditation if you feel it is warranted.
  • Trust your intuition.
  • Be patient: you and the children will look forward to these meditations.

From Baby Buddhas, by Lisa Desmond.

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“Still Quiet Place: Mindfulness for Young Children,” by Dr. Amy Salzman

Still Quiet Place, Amy Salzman

If you’ve ever wondered how you could introduce the life skill of meditation to your children, here’s a delightful CD that will help you do just that. Still Quiet Place is a series of guided meditations for children (ages three or older) that gently leads them to find and appreciate the ‘treasure’ within themselves. With each track, Dr. Amy Saltzman helps children to explore a different aspect their inner world, including an awareness of their physical bodies and emotions, and begin to trust their own inner wisdom.

And it’s not all about stillness and quiet. One track, called “wilds”, begins with a driving drumbeat and asks, “Do you sometimes feel wild, or crazy, or silly? Like a volcano about to erupt or a hurricane twirling around?” Dr. Saltzman honors the whole child, including the giggly, high-energy side, and encourages young people to fully experience all of their emotions and inner world.

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For older children, there are a couple longer tracks on simple yoga poses and a full body scan. And there’s even something for parents, too. Dr. Saltzman says in her ‘adult intro’ that the greatest source of children’s stress is not school, peer pressure or over-scheduling, but parental stress. So the last track is for you, the grown-ups — a brief mindfulness meditation of about 13 minutes, to help you slow down and bring your awareness to the present moment.

Overall, this is a wonderful CD that can give your children a solid start toward becoming happier and healthier adults in the future.

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