When studying Japan and China, I find that explaining concepts like ‘Zen’ or ‘Buddhism’ is easier for small children to understand with concrete examples, something they can touch. A ‘Zen Garden’ is a good way to teach little ones a bit about the culture of Japan without getting too deep. This lesson plan is simple and appropriate for first to sixth grade.
What you will need: A box or tub with an easy open lid, but seals well so that if it tips the sand won’t escape. A medium size Tupper-ware like container, only a couple inches deep and perhaps five or six across. Shape does not matter. You will also need some rocks or smooth stones (small enough to fit in the container when it is closed and have 2 to 3 for each child) and some no-dust or low dust sand (white is traditional), both of which can be found in most craft stores near the floral arrangements. You need sand that does not put up a bunch of dust so that your precious little ones aren’t breathing silica, which is very bad for them and you! A plastic fork for a rake, and some oven bake clay (optional) to make small pagoda forms with.
- Give a quick explanation of a gravel Zen garden, and show some examples of real ones in picture form. Have a small example of what they are making prepared for them to look at. Talk about peace, quiet, tranquility and meditation, which the garden is supposed to help with.
- Have the children put a layer of sand into the bottom of their tubs. They may now choose their rocks and place them about thinking about ‘harmony’ and ‘balance’.
- If you chose to have a pagoda (a building with layered roofs in a very oriental style) show them an example and using only a couple of colors, build two to three cubes of descending size. Using the other color make flat square roofs to top each layer. Gently pinch the corners to make them turn up, and ‘peak’ the roof by pinching up in the middle.
- Bake the clay pagodas at the appropriate temp in the oven. Just follow the directions on the package of whatever brand you bought.
- After the clay is cool, place the pagoda in the sand.
- Using the fork, make peaceful circles around the objects, trying to get even lines and patterns. Harder than it looks!
- Store the gardens in the room for a time so that the children may enjoy each other’s work. It is a great thing for them to do during down time or when they need some time to think out a project.
Other projects from the Orient you might want to do with your class:
Published in: Gardening