Zen Garden


As I have mentioned previously, the children in our class have been curious about gardens lately (check out my post about our Imaginary Garden). One of the things we have been wondering about is different types of gardens: rock gardens, flower gardens, fairy gardens, etc. As a result, we decided to create a Zen Garden provocation at the sand table:




To give the children some background on Zen Gardens, we looked up pictures online and I found a Youtube clip that showed the process of working in and maintaining a zen garden, which the class was quite fascinated by. The children were quite interested in the designs that were created in the gravel (in our case, sand) and noticed how quiet and still the garden was. We also talked about keeping the garden free from clutter and garbage and the idea that before making designs, it was important to start with a clean surface of sand. This meant using a hand-held brush (small broom) to brush and comb the sand. While watching the children at the centre, I was struck by how seriously they took this initial step – brushing and smoothing the sand in a slow, calm manner.

Initially, the children had difficulty making designs in the sand. Some children were frustrated that they were not able to create the patterns or designs they had envisioned. With practice and reflection (during group sharing time) we discovered that in order to make a clear pattern, the creator had to use the rakes very gently/lightly and slowly. This added to the purposeful work that was happening when the children were engaged here.


Here are some of the children’s creations, which they were certainly quite proud of!



One of my favourite gardens was created by a JK boy in my class. He had been coming to the garden for a few days but had either stood back and watched his classmates or worked in a very small corner of the sand bin. On this particular day, he worked with one other student and then by himself to create his masterpiece:


A.F.: This is my Zen Garden. I made a bridge – the stones are walking on the bridge. And I put in lots of plants and grass. The sticks are the trees. And the rocks are the daddies carrying the babies around. There are lots of daddies in the garden today. I even made designs with my rake! I had to work really slowly and quietly.


The stones going for a walk on the bridge…


The plants and bushes and grass…


The daddy rocks carrying the baby rocks…

As with any provocation, the success of our Zen Garden came from the schema building, questioning, problem solving, and reflection that we engaged in throughout – both as a whole class and individually or in small groups at the centre itself. Our Zen Garden is a calm space that gives the children a quiet place to create with loose parts. The complexity of the gardens is increasing daily, especially now that the children have gotten the hang of design-making with the rakes, so I’m excited to see what happens next!





12 thoughts on “Zen Garden

  1. Your posts are very inspiring and I always look forward to seeing and reading what you and your students are inquiring about. I find them creative and interesting. Do you have any special tips for documentation? Also, do you have a sample of a typical day plan- I would like to alter mine for next year and searching for ideas.

  2. Hi Angela! Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I’m so happy to hear that you have been inspired here! When it comes to documentation, everyone tends to have their own way. I try and capture as much as I can with my camera – I often find that a conversation, or new learning, or interesting discovery can be well represented in a photo. I have a class iPad and class camera that I use to capture images of the children at work. I also have my own camera and iPhone as a backup. For the centres I am specifically looking for new learning or assessing I keep a legal size sheet of paper that has a space for each child where I can record conversations/discussions. I like having all my students on one page – I find it makes it easier for reporting purposes or documentation panels to have everyone’s ideas in one place. It’s also easy just to staple longer recorded conversations to that page if I need more space. If I’m working with a small group, I may use the recorder on my iPhone to capture the conversation so I can write it down later. When we have reflection time, I post photos of the children’s learning with some of their thinking on the SMARTBoard in a notebook file called “Reflections” which is easier to refer to later when I’m giving my parents updates about the week. Most of our centres are also stocked with paper and writing materials for the children to record their own thinking and learning as well – these work samples are invaluable sources of information for how the children are learning and progressing.
    As for a day plan, I am working on a post about that right now. I hope to get it up on the blog along with a sample copy of our weekly schedule sometime in the next couple of weeks so be sure to look out for it. Thanks again for stopping by! I hope this answered your question.

  3. I agree, your posts are truly inspiring and just so interesting!
    How did you/the students manage to regulate themselves at the Zen Garden centre? It looks and sounds like the students would need ample time and space at this centre to bring their vision and learning to life. How did you manage this? Was there a limit to how many students could be there at one time?

    • Hi Tanya! Thanks for stopping by! What a great question. Our sand table can usually accommodate around 3 children but we are flexible on that depending on how the children are able to work together. Because of the “zen” nature of this activity I found we were able to accommodate up to 5 kids at once some days – they were all so focused on their design making. The children know that 3 is the unofficial rule, so if there are more than three and things get too crowded or noisy we will ask some students to try again later. I also don’t put any time limits on the children’s work at any particular centre. The wonderful thing about the full day is that there are two full discovery periods per day, so if a child doesn’t get a turn in the morning they can always make a plan to visit the centre in the afternoon. I hope this is helps!

  4. I am wanting to make Zen gardens in my classroom as well. But I have had a hard time finding an appropriate video about them. Which clip did you show from youtube?

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