Written by former BMS teacher, Miranda Altice. Originally published on Miranda's blog at The Indigo Teacher.
Zen gardens are amazing. I have witnessed profound concentration and focus from my students of all ages and energy types when used in the peace area of my classrooms. I have one in my home, I have gifted them to close friends with children, and I have never gone without when setting up classrooms for myself or other educators.
The word zen actually means meditation. Despite it being categorized in the west as new age, it’s not. In fact, the concept of zen gardens is over a thousand years old and originates in Japan.
Typically, a zen garden (sometimes called a Japanese rock garden) features an enclosed area of sand or fine gravel, large or small rocks to place throughout, and a rake. There may also be other pieces of nature such as moss or trees, sometimes even a creek.
(Photo credit: t3hWIT via Foter.com / CC BY-NC)
The sand or gravel is used to represent the ocean, and the rocks and other natural objects are used to create scenes of sea islands. The rake is used to create beautiful, rhythmic waves or ripples in the metaphoric water, while also giving oneself a profound sense of peace and meditation throughout the process of raking – even if just for awhile. I don’t know about you, but I honestly feel a sense of calm just observing these works of art.
(Photo credit: timtak via Foter.com / CC BY-NC)
I LOVE bringing this concept of active zen to children, especially because the tabletop version is so attractive yet simple…
Children of all ages are oftentimes immediately drawn to this small zen garden even without my having to introduce it. Of course, the lesson must come first. Observation of how to use it and of the respect that it deserves must be viewed by the child before he or she can have their first go. I also like using the zen garden as part of a cultural lesson on Asia and specific countries such as China and Japan.
One of my favorite tabletop zen gardens is from Montessori Services (also known as For Small Hands). The wooden sand tray is a great size for any shelf or table, and it comes with fine white sand, two types of bamboo rakes, small stones, and a neat little booklet of zen meditations. This is the direct link: Japanese Sand Garden.
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