By Simon Sekku Harrison
The Zen youth programs, (Kids, Tweens and Teens) have been online for well over a year. We’ve welcomed new sangha members from all over the country and even as far afield as Colombia, SA. The Zen Kids program (4-10 years) joins together once a week to sit zazen, create art, share gratitude, use our imaginations and read inspiring stories together.
Zazen with the young kids is the same as with us grown-ups, but different. We encourage the kids to sit in the same posture, but to find our mudra we might imagine we are taking care of a delicate dragon’s egg. Kids as young as age four participatie so Zazen can often be a playful adventure in locating where we find our breath. Can we find it in our nose, our toes? Our home, the trees and birds outside?
We always wrap up our time together with everyone sharing gratitude for what’s filling our hearts in that moment. I’m always inspired and uplifted by this simple practice. Kids being kids, they often point out things they’re grateful for that I wouldn’t have brought to mind. A family farm, sock puppets, tigers and facemasks are some of the diverse gratitudes that have been shared recently. I find a very direct and deep simplicity in their relationship with the world when they share things like, “I’m grateful for grapes.” Often their gratitude seems to be alive in their whole body, not just carried on the words.
We’ve used a number of books recently as starting points to explore different aspects of practice; the joy of learning, finding out how we keep flowing even when we’re fearful, and what can we celebrate in our life? Here’s three fantastic books we’ve shared recently with the Zen Kids.
What Are We Inspired to Learn?
Mary was born into slavery in 1848. At age 15 the Emancipation Proclamation profoundly changed Mary’s life in many ways. But it was over 100 years later, aged 116, Mary learned to read. Inspired by Mary’s quite incredible life, we created art with the kids around the question of, “What are we excited to learn?”
Here’s a few examples of what the kids thought up:
To know what my cat is saying. To learn my family’s language, Nepali, and learn how to be a doctor. To learn how to create a rocket that can travel to the stars. To learn how to find unicorns and to ride them (and to learn math in order to skip a grade!) And to learn how to tame a tiger.
I hope the kids continue their love for learning, inspiring us all to follow their joyful examples.
What Is fear, and what can we do when we experience it?
Jabari is determined to jump off the high board. But when it comes time to do it, it’s not so easy. Together with his Dad, Jabari explores his fears, and even does a spot of mindful breathing on the edge of the board, and… well, I won’t spoil the ending.
We used this book with the kids to look at fear; how do we know when we or someone else is afraid? Some responses from the kids were that we might talk really fast, or suddenly go silent. We might feel tense in our body or we might suddenly feel almost nothing at all. We each created art to depict what we’re afraid of. (The dark and spiders were well represented) We also drew what helps us keep moving and flowing, even while we’re fearful. Kids shared they can talk to a friend, get curious about things like spiders, or like Jabari, take some deep breaths. (Also, turn the light on and get a glass jar.) We discovered that we’re all fearful, and that there’s always something we can do.
What Can We Celebrate?
Julian loves dressing as a mermaid. His Abuela not only embraces Julian’s creativity, but also introduces him to a Sangha of like minded folks to share his passions with.
The book is filled with things to celebrate. When we read this with the kids, things they celebrated included Julian’s creativity, his Abuela’s kindness, the bright costumes of the other mermaids and even the fern for agreeing to be on Julian’s head. After exploring as a group, the kids each created art around the things they celebrate in their own lives. Families were almost ever present, as were pets and friends. Earth spaces such as farms and forests were also celebrated. Finally, the kids shared their unique stories of why each of these is so special to them.
If you have resources we might share as part of the Zen Kids programs or suggestions for how we might serve the kids in our sangha please send them over to me, Sekku at firstname.lastname@example.org
Zen Kids programs are currently being offered online via Zoom, with outdoor programs being scheduled for summer 2021. For more info, contact:
Zen Kids (ages 4-10): Sekku and Eve at email@example.com
Zen Tweens (ages 10-13): Scrap and Jo at firstname.lastname@example.org
Zen Teens (ages 14-18): Kien at email@example.com