Buddhanet is a great website for people of all ages to learn about Buddhism, for people who want to follow the Buddhist path, those who have no prior knowledge and everyone in between.
We began by telling the story of Siddhartha Gautama using the printable picture book you can find here. The whole book is 93 pages long so I chose 20 pages that I felt were the key images and told an abridged version.
The main points I wanted to convey were that Siddhartha had been a prince and wanted for nothing, he saw old, sick and dead people, this shocked him and he wanted to discover a way to help them from suffering. He then saw a monk and decided to leave his family and riches behind to become a monk to discover the root and cure for all human suffering. He tried to realise this through asceticism, by refusing all comfort, including food and water but realised that if he did not look after his basic needs he could die before understanding the world. After eating and drinking he sat on a mat under a tree and mediated until he reached an enlightened state. He traveled far, teaching people that greed was the root of suffering and speaking to people of all ages and backgrounds as equal.
I then mixed the pages up and as a group we put them in the right order on the floor. This helped the children learn the story and meant they could see it all at once, so could look at the images in their own time.
Each child chose an image to colour in and take home.
This was a good introduction to The Buddha but it’s a big story with a lot of ideas to fit in one session. I think I will revisit the story again and spread it over a month to explore it and some of the questions and ideas it raises in more depth.
Iqbal was one of the people we looked at during our theme on justice and standing up for what is right.
Iqbal was taken to work in a factory from the age of 4 as he had been used as security against a loan taken out by his parents. Several years later, he attended a Builder’s Union meeting and discovered that for the past few years, he had been kept working illegally but due to a corrupt government and police force the law had never been enforced. He spoke to the crowd and they rallied to get him and his fellow slaves free.
Iqbal then traveled the country and the world, speaking out against child slavery and it is estimated that over 3000 children escaped after hearing his story. He also traveled abroad to tell his story and wanted to become a lawyer to fight for all bonded children to be free.
At the young age of 13 he was shot dead.
We read his story in the book Iqbal: A Brave Boy from Pakistan it is suitable for under 9 year olds. For older children or for a more in depth background, this graphic explores his life in more detail.
Some of the questions I offered were…
Is there anything unfair in the story?
Is it right for people to own children?
Should children be forced to work if they can earn money to help their family?
What kind of jobs do you think people would use children for?
We discussed that children could be used to go into small places, or for delicate work such as in the carpet factory or stitching small things. Also that it was not very long ago that it became illegal for children to do dangerous work in the UK and that even their great grandparents may have started working rather than go to secondary school. We rounded up with the realisation that in many places in the world, children are still being forced to work rather than be able to play or to go to school.
We did paper weaving for the craft activity in this session. We did simple weaving but for older children or adults it is easy to adapt to more complex designs using larger pieces of paper and/or thinner strips.
There is a good tutorial for simple paper weaving here and here is some inspiration for more advanced designs.
For the first session of the year I like to do an activity where we look back at the year, see where we are and to look forward. This is quite difficult for younger children who don’t really have much concept of when things have happened.
This year however, I have found this great printable page to use as a focus for this. It covers past, present and future. I particularly like the gender and age neutral figure that the children can decorate as themselves. Also that some prompts are very obvious and others need a bit more thought, making it suitable for a wider range of children.
In our group the children range from 4 to 8 and they will all be able to participate in this activity, although the younger ones will likely need quite a bit of help with the actual writing.
How I Use This in a Session
After our opening circle I will ask the children if they know what it means that it is a new year and introduce or discuss the idea of a year being the length of time it takes for the earth to go around the sun. We can demonstrate this as a group with one child (being the earth) walking around the others (as the sun) speaking the months of the year.
For older children we could introduce the idea of different countries or faiths celebrating the New Year at different points in the sun’s cycle. E.g. Chinese New Year in February or the Pagan year beginning at Samhain. Also we could introduce the idea of the lunar calendar.
Round up this section with this or similar – “Whenever the New Year is celebrated it is a good time to look at the year that has just finished and the year that is to come so we are going to think about some of the things that have happened, what is happening now and what we might like to happen in the next year.”
Colour and fill in the activity sheet.
For the closing circle I would ask the children to make some wishes for the next year. A wish for themselves, a wish for a specific person other than themselves and a wish for the world.