So what is ZENs, exactly?
ZENs has been penned to enable parents and/or teachers an easy format for assisting their children in creating a personal connection to Nature and our natural resources. As its name implies, ZENs focuses on experiencing Nature in a mindful and fully aware state. Children, parents, and teachers can begin to develop an appreciation, reverence, and affinity for our natural world through ZENs.
ZENs provides a framework for parents and teachers to follow and/or adapt in order to provide intentionally planned sensory experiences with Nature and in Nature. ZENs focuses on assisting children in developing their senses, identifying their emotions, and articulating what and how they sense and feel on a deeper personal level. Through ZENs, children begin to develop their spirituality and a personal sense of aesthetics.
Spiritual and aesthetic development are just as important in a child’s growth as cognitive and physical development, yet these aspects are, for the most part, absent from many learning institutions within the United States. Spiritual and aesthetic development are natural outcomes of time spent with Nature.
What is an experience?
In experiences, we allow children to decide for themselves what an experience means and what the tangible (if any) means to them. In other words, an experience is open to individual interpretation, whereby a study or lesson provides concrete knowledge and answers. Experiences connect us to our world in a personal way, in a relational way. Experiences transform us, reach deeper into our core being, and allow us to sense what we want to sense, no right or wrong enters the process. The same experience will be interpreted differently by each individual.
So you may be asking, are young children capable of such experiences? The answer is yes, if adults understand how to intentionally plan and provide such experiences for children. But young children require assistance in learning how to express what and how they feel. ZENs attempts to do just that by supporting parents and teachers with a framework to walk them through the facilitation process.
What is the parent’s/teacher’s role in ZENs?
Your role is as a guide, encouraging children to experience and express what they sense and how they feel through the varied experiences and reflective questions. It is imperative that you do not feed answers to children but rather question gently until each has formulated an answer with which he/she is satisfied. Provide the experience then reassure each to respond through descriptive terminology.
Notably important is the abundance of information one can learn about the child by asking reflective questions as to what he or she feels. In asking how each feels, we see a deeper level of each child. We listen to understand, not listen to respond. We learn to ask more “feeling” questions to support emotional development on a more spiritual level. Fostering development on this spiritual level connects the child to his inner creator, his inner uniqueness, his inner nature that is a thread of The Nature.
Why is ZENs important?
Through ZENs, children learn to develop the skills of mindfulness, awareness, and deeper sensory exploration. ZENs aims to begin fostering the spiritual and aesthetic development of young children by providing meaningful and intentional experiences with and in Nature, and assisting children in expressing how and what they sense and feel. Emphasis is placed on individual interpretation of what is beautiful and pleasing to each, through sensory exploration. Communication skills are naturally enhanced, as is vocabulary, through the processes of describing what and how they feel during each experience.
Just as important, we learn of their perspectives, their views, their beliefs, their thinking processes, their dreams, their hopes, and their interests…all by asking questions during their experiences with Nature.
What’s included in each ZENs date?
The framework is geared to individual or small group (3-4 children) planning and implementation. Experiences are meant to be conducted outdoors with naturally occurring materials whenever possible.
The suggested discussion points are mere guidelines. You may have a completely different conversation or choose to describe the experience to a nonverbal child in a completely different line. You may choose to sit quietly for the majority of the time just observing how you feel and observing how your child is responding to the experience, rather than focusing on questions. Try to remain open minded and tuned into both you and your child and what is occurring during your experiences. At some point do have a bit of a conversation about the experience so that your child can begin to construct awareness based on how he/she feels in the experience and you can begin to gain an understanding of your child’s thought processes and preferences.
It is most important that your child sees your comfort level with being outdoors. If you are uncomfortable in an experience, talk about it with your child. Describe how you are feeling with your child without projecting your feelings onto your child. You may enjoy an experience that your child may not and vice versa. You both may enjoy an experience or not….communicate with each other why you feel the way you do. By participating in these experiences, if for nothing else, you will increase your ability to develop honest communication with your child, and truly gain a deep understanding of your child and learn some things of yourself as well. A beautiful occurrence indeed!
How do you Intentionally Plan and provide a ZENs for children?
Follow the ZENs framework, or tweak it to suit your family or group.
Of foremost importance is to allow plenty of time for children to explore the experience with their senses. In this way, children are not rushed through an experience thus, they have time to formulate and articulate their feelings and preferences.
Documentation is a wonderful tool for learning about, reflecting on, and discovering your child’s emerging self while also discovering something about your inner self. Photos in the moment, a short recording, taped or written, of your conversation with your child, or your observations of your child are some suggestions for easy documentation of an experience. Maybe a memento from the experience.
There is no wrong way to experience nature, as long as you are respecting, and have reverence for, Mother Earth. It is pivotal to the future of our planet that we all learn to love and respect Nature.
“It is vital that when educating our children’s brains that we do not neglect to educate their hearts” – H.H. 14th Dalai Lama.