August 16, 2021

Thich Nhat Hanh Uses Picture Books to Teach Mindfulness to Children—& So Can You.

Making storytime a habit helps children learn new things, increase their focus and concentration, and it’s also a great time for bonding.

Children love storytime and frequent reading makes for good readers and good learners. Books chosen can be used as a launching point for introducing concepts and for sharing in the child’s social and emotional development.

When I was younger, we had weekly trips to the library, armed with lists of topics we wanted to explore. Sometimes we used the card catalog directory, sometimes we would ask a reference librarian, and other times we would just wander around and see what got our attention. Books are a great way to dig into a topic and to share it with younger children in an accessible way.

Here are some book recommendations to teach children about the concepts of mindfulness and meditation. If your own public library doesn’t have these specific titles, sometimes they can be interlibrary loaned from another library so you and the young ones can read them together. Ask your local library if this is an option for you.

A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles
by Thich Nhat Hanh

Pebble meditation was developed at Plum Village to introduce meditation to small children. The tactile nature of the pebbles and the repetition of the concepts and helps reinforce them in an accessible way. The pebbles themselves connect the child with nature and provide a tactile focus for their meditation. I did not know that Thich Nhat Hahn had written children’s books, but he has written a few. Any of them could be used to introduce mindfulness at an early age to help children learn to quiet their minds and sit with difficult emotions.

by Tomie dePaola

Tomie dePaola is best known for Strega Nona and his classical fairy tale renditions. His book Quiet starts with a grandfather taking children for a walk, pointing out how busy nature is. The frog jumps into the pond and the dragonfly zooms over. The breezes blow through the trees. Then Grandfather decides to sit on the bench and point out that the birds are sitting and the frog and the dragonfly are resting too. The contrast demonstrates that there is a time to be busy and a time to rest, an important message for children and their grownups. “To be quiet and still is a special thing.”

Here and Now
by Julia Denos

This book helps the reader center down and be present in the moment. The story expands from the place they are reading to the earth below, to our place in space, and what else is happening in the world at the same time they read. The watercolor illustrations have diverse representations of Black, Asian, Latinx, and disabled subjects of all ages. Children will learn the interconnectedness of things as they zoom out from their own “now” to everyone else’s.

Moody Cow Meditates
by Kerry Lee MacLean

Another grandfather is in this story, and he empathetically listens to his grandson Peter talk about the various unpleasant events of the day. Grandfather shows him how to make him a mind jar—a small jar full of glitter with ingredients to slow the fall of the glitter to the bottom of the jar. The jar is an anchor for focus and a timer for Peter as he sits. In the end, when the glitter has settled, Peter finds that he has too. The book includes instructions on how to make your own mind jar.

Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children
by Thich Nhat Hanh, Wietske Vriezen (Illustrator)

Unlike the other four books in this list, this title’s audience is adults, which can include parents, caregivers, and educators. It contains many mindfulness activities for children and their grownups to explore together. It includes an audio CD, stories from Plum Village, and creative exercises for children. With chapter titles like “Strengthening Connections to Each Other and the Earth” and “Mindful Breathing and Listening to the Bell,” key teachings are presented in a format that is easily replicated, with examples from educators that used these techniques in the classroom.

These titles are a good place to introduce mindfulness by showing other children who are modeling these behaviors and showing their grownups how to teach them. It’s never too early to start reading to the little ones in your life and early literacy is a big predictor of academic success.

Using books and storytime to teach meditation and other mindfulness concepts is one way to communicate these valuable concepts that children can learn early and use their entire lives.

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