Book Reviews Meditation Instruction

Planting Seeds of attention

“Teachers and parents often ask their students to pay attention, but may not teach them how to do so.”   Do our kids really KNOW how to pay attention, or what parents mean when they say that?  How can I help my kiddo know how to attend, how to concentrate?  Mindfulness and meditation of course!!

You cannot transmit wisdom and insight to another person.  The seed is already there.  A good teacher touches the seed, allowing it to wake up, to sprout, and to grow.  Thich Nhat Hanh

The above quotes come from Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community.  This book was my first adventure into bringing meditation and other practices that I love into my child’s day. I bought it even before I knew I would be homeschooling!   This book is indeed about planting seeds to grow peaceful practices with kids, however, if you are looking for something completely devoid of Buddhist influence, then this isn’t your book.

Planting Seeds contains a hefty amount of mindfulness curriculum, including:

  • A CD of songs, and gives the music and words at the end of the book.
  • It has simple, gorgeous illustrations,
  • Crafts, games and activities with a mindful theme
  • Tips on how to set up a classroom or mindful area with objects to cue a peaceful atmosphere. .
  • It includes first-hand experiences volunteers have had with kids at Plum Village and teachers in traditional classroom settings.

 

Mindfulness books are predominantly for one of two audiences: adults or kids.  Planting Seeds explores how to be a friend, family and community in a mindful way.  I’ve never been to plum village but I love that there are times where children and whole families are there, not just parents.  It’s one of the few family options out there.

Also offered up are ways to embrace emotions and virtues mindfully through rituals (somewhat like Charlotte Mason’s habit-training)  These poems or verses, said at various times throughout the day or week, help foster positive emotions and build mental immunity.

  • Morning (Waking up poem)
  • Mealtimes (paying respects for food)
  • Schooltime (bells and the Two Promises)
  • Sending wishes at the start and end of the day
  • Cues and ideas on how to have conversations about emotions like peace and love (what does peace mean to you? How do we show love?) and also suffering.

 

While promoting and exploring the Positive virtues we wish to cultivate in ourselves and our kids, for mental immunity we also need to address the negative. I have a necklace with one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s calligraphies etched into pewter: No Mud, No Lotus.  Without the stinky, squishy layer of mud on the bottom of the pond, there is no beautiful lotus growing atop the water.  This metaphor is a great way to introduce to our kids that bad stuff does indeed happen, but it is the fertilizer, the material from which good things come later. This concept, this awareness, builds up mental immunity (for more on this, see the blog on Book of Joy).  Just this week I saw a news article on an 8-year-old that had committed suicide.  Mental awareness and conversations about the not-so-happy times in life are vital for our kiddos. Mindfulness curriculum makes space for feeling everything– not just the good stuff.

“We shouldn’t be too afraid of suffering, and we should know how to learn from it.  Then we will know how to prevent suffering from overwhelming us.” TNH

Another practical exercise in Planting Seeds is ringing a bell. Bells are found throughout history in many places to call our attention–clocks, doorbells, church or temple bells, even in jewelry to ward off evil spirits.  Where I teach we have a gong and a smaller bell to call people back to class. Bells are also used in yoga and meditation classes.  Best part: kids enjoy them (unless there is sensory avoidance).  We have two kinds of bells in our home–tingshas (two smaller bells connected by a cord) and a Tibetan singing bowl.

 

My kiddo isn’t quiet and meditative by nature– he’s exuberant, enthusiastic and vibrant, Mr. Activity.  So mindfulness, while not being a natural long-term state, is something he can embrace.  One activity he likes is our Tibetan singing bowl.  If you’ve never heard or used one, here’s one site (no affiliation, I just like that they have lots of videos) You can see a variety of bowls and hear what each sounds like.

http://www.himalayanbowls.com/new-singing-bowls/peace-singing-bowls.html
What makes a singing bowl so special?  They come with a mallet and cushion.  You can gently ‘invite’ the bell with the small wooden mallet, or you can run the mallet around the rim to make it sing.  To make a sound from it takes attention, which is what makes it a good meditative activity.  There’s a physical vibration to go along with the sound that is soothing and grounding, especially if you let the bowl sit close to you.  If your child has sensory avoidance, you can ‘deaden’ a Tibetan bowl by leaning it against the cushion or your finger as you hit it, making it much quieter with far less vibration.  In Planting Seeds, there are activities and instructions around using the bells alone, as part of a family, and in a common areas.  My son knows these, and knows the bell isn’t a toy and that we approach it calmly.  Just this weekend he went to invite the bell, and I heard him say “breathing in” as he took a breath before making the sound.  I appreciate bell activities for kids as ways to introduce  contemplative concepts like mindfulness in concrete, physical ways.

 

If you are not at peace, how can you impart peace to your children and students?  TNH

 

Planting Seeds offers a wide variety of mindfulness curriculum, activities and ideas.  Enjoy 🙂

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