Zen practice needs every practitioner to be a beginner, who has no preconception about what is happening or what is going to happen. Children are real beginners. Everything is new for them. It doesn't mean they don't have preconceptions, but they have much less than adults. That's their advantage for practicing Zen!
If we we'd like to help our children have better concentration, which is important for their learning and growth, please “Count Breathing” together with them. Tell them that breathing is one of the best gifts that mother and father have given them and they should have a nice stay with it. At first breathe deeply in and out several times, until the breathing becomes thin enough naturally to breathe through the nostrils. Then, when inhaling through the nostril count 1, when exhaling through the nostril count 2, do in this way for 5 cycles. When they can do it without any distraction, change the counting: when inhaling through the nostril count 1, when exhaling through the nostril count 2, then inhale again 3, exhale 4…5 until 10 as one cycle. Repeat this way until they can do it without any distraction, then we can add more numbers for one cycle. But don’t force them too much. Help them find encouragement by themselves. They can do it by lying on the floor when they become tired of running or playing with toys, and can also do it by lying on the bed at night. It is good way to have a better sleep.
If we wish our children have more insight power, we can play the “Belly Bear” together. Help them to calm down and lie on the floor with a pillow under the neck. Put a toy bear on the belly, and look at the bear's moving up and down, and gradually let them put awareness on the belly, where the bear is sitting. At last, let them put awareness on the whole abdomen's movement with the whole body's breathing. This is the way to help them have insight about the happening on the surface, into the happening “hidden” underneath. They will naturally discover the link between “breathing of the body” and “breathing of the mind”.
If we want our children to avoid self-isolation and to be more creative, one of best ways is to play “Shaping Water”: Put one bowl of water into different shapes of containers. Let's together find all kinds of shapes of containers at home, and pour water from one to another. Each time they pour water into one container, remind them to be aware of the shape of the water. After trying all the containers, we may ask them: “What's the real shape of water?” If the shape of water can be “fixed” by a container, it is not water. In daily life, we can also remind them to observe all different forms of water, such as steam, cloud, snow, ice and its melting…the intuitive wisdom beyond knowledge will grow in their mind.
If we wish our children to be free from the bondage of tense craving and nervous grasping, let's enjoy some moments of bell ringing. Listen to the sound of a bell together, from the appearing of the sound until its disappearing. We can also try the bells with different timbre to arouse their interest. Then we may recommend: “Shall we store the sound of bell in a box?” And we may find a box (even with a lock), to open the cover when the bell is ringing, and close it when it fades away. It is not a trick, but an experiment! To have the direct experience of impermanence is one of the best ways to cultivate releasing.
Zen can be played, because it is living with the playing, and the playing is the life of children. When we are “teaching” our children to play with Zen, it is also our opportunity to learn from these real beginners ; )