By Rutger Tamminga
Every summer and winter vacation Ananda Jyoti organizes children’s camps. The original idea was to let children experience a lifestyle in nature, away from parental oversight, learn some meditation and do team activities, while cooking, cleaning and some farming. Today the camps have attracted parents who also enjoy the same. This winter camp was therefore more a parents and children camp!
The children wake up at six in the morning, start group meditation at six-thirty and then do yoga and storytelling. At seven thirty there is half an hour cleaning of the environment and the observation of silence. Breakfast starts at eight and at nine we go into the forest. There we usually have a playful activity. This time I gave everybody some clay and they made shapes and this way became more aware and connected with nature.
At other times we play in other ways, such as making small mandalas in nature with the leaves, branches, flowers or stones, leaf matching search activities, food web research etc. On another day I asked the children to look for different colors of soil. We used that to make soil art.
After about one and a half hours, the children are usually tired and we go inside, where we follow up with a craft. This time we did a very nice activity inspired by the wonderful ideas Linda Baker shared in her Taipei seminar. I gave every team of children pieces of blank puzzle shapes. I asked them to draw on these shapes the things or people they are connected to. Most children drew themselves, their parents, and other family members, and their favorite toys. That was phase one.
After reviewing everybody’s work, which basically consisted of five independent puzzles, I asked the children what connects all of these pieces. Suddenly there was a burst of ideas: air, sun, sound, ideas, the soil, music, love, animals, insects….. They drew these ideas on more puzzle pieces and we connected all our little worlds together into one big world!
This idea reflects what Linda’s Supporting Systems is promoting. It was very powerful when the children realized that what connects all of us together is actually more important that what we are connected to every day!
I noticed that this experience changed perceptions. At the end of the camp (the third day) the children made a thankfulness wheel. Most of them included, in this, thankfulness for the sun, air, water, soil and animals. Very interestingly, this time the children also included thankfulness for themselves (along with parents, teachers, friends)!
The Twenty-four Solar Terms
This time the camp also introduced the twenty four solar terms, a specifically unique Chinese cultural concept that divides one year into twenty four sections, with each having their own unique farming activities, foods for health and social harmony. For this activity I asked the children to collect objects on their next trip into the forest and use these to make a decoration that reflected one of the solar terms. I gave them a black paper background and I think they did so wonderfully. (See example below)
It is standard in our children’s camp that we have a cultural activity. Usually the children will play a musical instrument, tell a story, sing songs or tell jokes. Sometimes they show magic or play some Chinese tong twisters and riddles.
On the last day Mohamukta Lin did a final closing circle, which reflected love for the earth, the people and the universe. It was very meaningful and heartfelt.
The King of the Trees
The overall theme of all our camps is trees. We use the slogan: Planting trees, growing love. By learning to connect with trees, we connect with all of nature, and by understanding trees we come closer to understanding nature as a whole. Traditionally there are many stories about trees. To close this review I would like to share my story, The King of the Trees:
The King of the Trees
Once the trees were talking to each other about who should be the king of the trees.
The banyan tree said it should be the king, because it was big and old.
The apple tree started to laugh. “How can you be a king when your fruits are so small. I should be the king. MY fruits are big and loved by both animals and people.”
“Hm,” said the Coconut Tree, “How can you be king. You are short and your beautiful red fruits are soft and bruise easily when they fall down. I should be the king. I am tall, and my fruits are strong. They travel far across the seas and still, the salty water doesn’t hurt them. They can grow in many lands!”
“Look at me.” Said the plum tree. “I grow fruits when all of you are still cold and freezing, and haven’t grown leaves yet. I am more suitable to be the king!”
The trees were talking and arguing on and on, when a boy passed by, carrying a big book.
He heard the trees’ discussion, opened his book and said, “I think you all have a point, and do amazing duty on this earth. But there is one tree that outshines all of you. He lives in the desert, where none of you can grow. He is big and strong and gives shade to whoever can’t stand the sun anymore. When animals cannot find water, they go to him, and drink the water stored in its trunk. When they are hungry, they eat its fruits. And he does so happily.”
The trees looked up. “Who is that amazing tree of the desert?” they asked.
“It is the Baobab.” Said the boy. He is not here, arguing or trying to show he is bigger than any of you. He is out there, where none of you can go, serving those who need him.
All the trees bowed their crowns and said, “Dear boy, write him a letter for us and let him know we would like him to be our king, so we can also become like him.”
And so the boy did. And after many days the Baobab sent a letter back, it was a song, the tree song now every tree in the world sings:
I’ll grow, I’ll grow
Strong like a tree
Strong and kind
Great and good
When you’re hot
I’ll give you shade
When you’re hungry
I’ll give you food
I’ll grow, I’ll grow
Great and good!
The children’s camps at Ananda Jyoti are becoming very popular. These camps are a very natural way of connecting with spirituality, universal love and each other, and many of the children come again and again!