A small beautiful book, A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles by Thich Nhat Hanh is another ‘quick-start’ mindfulness tool for your classroom and home. Paper-over-board covers with a spiral binding make it a durable, easy-to-use tool. (Thank you, Plum Blossom Books–you know the struggle to hold a book open and work with a child at the same time is real.) The book contains a script for you to use to guide the mindfulness exercise, as well as illustrations and activities for kids.
The main idea is beautifully simple: you and your child/ren choose four pebbles. Each represents an image from nature: a flower, a mountain, calm water and open sky or space. Using a concrete object and imagery from nature makes this book ideal as a first meditation book for young kids. I started using this with my son when he was five.
Thich Nhat Hanh has written a poetic mantra to say while holding each of the four pebbles, to help learn how to hold the attention on the breath and the present moment. Hanh, in addition to being a Buddhist monk, is also a calligrapher, author and poet.
As an example, the full expression as you breathe out as a flower is “Breathing out, I am beautiful just as I am and I feel very fresh.” I read that out loud, then the kiddo says “flower” on the inhale and “fresh” on the exhale. The pattern repeats for the remaining three– there’s a longer poem to read about the image, then you breathe and say the words. The Flower / Fresh helps us relax and let go of whatever has happened (i.e. being frustrated about something). The Mountain / Solid helps us cultivate calmness and to be grounded and less reactive. Still Water / Reflecting is good for looking at emotions and encouraging serenity and clarity, and Space / Free helps us feel at ease and calm to expand our capacity for acceptance and generosity.
Pages 20-30 give you a script to read from to guide you and the kiddo/s through the entire meditation, so never fear, the book is full of assistance. It’s a sweet, simple practice — you can’t do it wrong.
This ties into observing and studying nature quite well (something we Charlotte Mason fans appreciate). Being outside or in a botanical garden, you can find examples of a clear sky (space), calm water (a pond or lake or reflecting pool), a mountain (a boulder or large rock) and a flower. My son and I chose four smooth, dark gray pebbles and painted a flower, a mountain, blue water and a cloud on our stones to help reinforce the visuals. It could be fun to do the meditation outside, although that could offer too much distraction for some.
When I later found our painted rocks in a play construction site with the crew from Bob the Builder, I changed tactics. 🙂 In the book are four visuals illustrated with the element from nature plus the poem about each. I copied them in color and laminated them and put them on a ring, and now we look at the illustrations as we practice. They sit on our Tibetan singing bowl (more on bells and singing bowls coming soon!).
The emotions evoked are helpful, and assist in not only learning mindfulness, but also becoming aware of emotions and the realization that our reactions to our emotions are important. After learning the Four Pebbles meditation, you can ‘call on them’ in everday life. When kids get frustrated or upset or overwhelmed, we can say, “Okay, pause. Let’s pick a pebble.” My kiddo loves the Flower one best. It’s a useful tool to help navigate strong emotions.
Other aspects of this book that are well-suited for homeschoolers are the craft and music components. Included are
- Creative writing exercises that can be adapted for copywork: i.e. “Mountain / Solid: I feel solid, strong and confident when…”
- Craft: instructions for making a special bag to hold your pebbles
- Music: a song called Breathing In, Breathing Out
- Nature Study: taking this out into nature and meditating outside. (Coming soon: a blog on walking mindfully in nature!)
- Painting/drawing–having kids draw their favorite flower, watery spot, etc.
- Geology/science–I haven’t done this yet, but I love the idea of going to a shop that sells polished gemstones and getting four different ones for each nature element/ emotion;
- i.e. Flower – rose quartz (pink),
- Mountain – hematite or magnetite (black or gray),
- Sky – flourite or quartz (light colors, whites, purples, blues) and
- Water – turquoise or lapis lazuli (blue). In my town you can find these at the local science museum gift shop, or the ‘hippie’ shop that sells rocks, gemstones and crystals.They’re usually inexpensive, around $1 -$2 per stone depending on size.
As kids age, the Four Pebbles can grow with them, (although I still like practicing the original without the kiddo–you may find yourself stuck in traffic “breathing in, Water, breathing out, Calm”). You can adapt the four pebbles to mean other things, like the emotions Love, Compassion, Joy and Inclusiveness. (Coming soon– The Book Of Joy blog to talk more about emotions, mental immunity and mindfulness.)
Overall, I love this little book. It’s beautiful, well-made, and full of positivity. I wrote a note to my kiddo in the front, and I hope to keep it as a childhood keepsake, something that is always around as he grows up.
I have no affiliation with a bookseller, but I always encourage people to support their locally-owned bookstores. If they don’t have Four Pebbles in stock, I’m sure they can order it. Here’s the info: A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles by Thich Nhat Hanh, Plum Blossom Books, Berkeley CA, 2012.