Miniature Japanese Zen Garden For Kids

miniature japanese zen garden

As part of learning about how Zen Buddhism spread to Japan in the Middle Ages, we made miniature Japanese Zen Gardens. It seemed like a great excuse to play with sand!

What You Need

  • Sand
  • Pebbles or rocks
  • Fork or other mini-raking tool
  • Container (we used chocolate boxes supported on trays)
  • Any other decorative items you like (marbles, twigs etc)

What You Do

1. Fill your container with sand

Miniature Japanese Zen Garden
Not a very Zen tablecloth – oops!

2. Look at pictures of real and miniature Zen Gardens for inspiration

3. Place your rocks

Miniature Japanese Zen Garden

4. Have fun making patterns in the sand with your “rake”

5. Finish with any other decorative features that take your fancy

Miniature Japanese Zen Garden
C(9) added a pond to her Zen Garden. This took a bit of experimentation to stop the water soaking into the sand
miniature japanese zen garden
Adding a “tree”

6. Place your Zen Garden somewhere you can admire it (and the cat can’t get it)

miniature japanese zen garden
Zen Garden with pond

Zen Soundtrack

You might like to listen to some relaxing Japanese music as you tend your garden.

Japanese Religion

Miniature Zen Garden Japan project for kidsZen Buddhism was brought to Japan from China and Korea in the Middle Ages.

We read about Buddhism in One World: Many Religions: The Ways We Worship by Mary Pope Osborne (the author of the Magic Tree House series).

Siddhartha and the Enlightenment

We learned how a young prince named Siddhartha was born in India five hundred years before Jesus was born.  One day, disturbed by some of the sights he saw outside his luxurious palace, Siddhartha set off in search of wisdom.

During meditation, Siddhartha had a sudden divine understanding that explained how to end all suffering.  Buddhists call this powerful insight the Enlightenment.

We read about the eight rules that the Buddha – as Siddhartha became known after the Enlightenment – set down to allow anyone to free themselves from their worldly desires and achieve enlightenment.

Photo credit: Tevraprapas

Zen Buddhism

As Buddhism spread from its origins in India, it split into different groups.  Zen Buddhism, a type of Mahayana Buddhism, is one of the most common types of Buddhism in Japan.

We learned how Zen Buddhists seek to cultivate a still, meditative state of mind to help them achieve enlightenment.


Before Buddhism, the indigenous religion of ancient Japan was Shinto.

“Shinto teaches that divine forces live in all things that inspire awe and wonder, such as a waterfall, a whirlpool, a mysterious cave, a beautiful stone, an exquisite insect, the wind and rain, thunder and lightening, and even a fascinating person.”

Mary Pope Osborne: One World, Many Religions

Shinto is congruent with Buddhism, and has survived alongside it. Many Japanese Buddhists worship at Shinto shrines as well as Buddhist temples.

What does Buddhism have to do with Gardening?

Apparently not much! Buddhist temples often house traditional dry gardens that have come to be known as Zen Gardens. Like many people, I thought that relaxing “Zen Gardens” were cultivated by Japanese Buddhists to help them achieve a meditative state of mind.

But as part of this study we discovered that  the association between Zen Buddhism and these gardens is actually a twentieth-century Western invention.  Oh well – that didn’t stop us enjoying creating our own miniature Zen Gardens!

miniature japanese zen garden

japan projects for kids
Click the picture to see more of our Japan projects


Miniature Zen Garden for Kids

Highhill Homeschool

Visit Adventures in Mommydom for more history and geography ideas.

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16 thoughts on “Miniature Japanese Zen Garden For Kids

    1. Thanks Phyllis. I thought this post was done for when we found out that the link with Buddhism was a modern invention, but then I decided it’s all history anyway 😀

  1. I, too, thought that the zen garden was a deliberate state maintained by the Japanese Budddhist monks to help them with their meditative practices. Thank you for the clarification! I suppose it is not unusual to romanticise things from a culture that is very different from one’s own.

    1. I suppose it is not unusual to romanticise things from a culture that is very different from one’s own.

      That’s a great way of putting it. This is one of the articles I found about the Zen Garden Myth.

      I’ve been meaning to stop by your blog all week to leave a comment about your cool geometry post. Off there now…

      1. I followed the link and read the articles there. Wow, isn’t the internet just fabulous that it allows us to look into different points of view?! Good on you for doing the research and sharing what you’ve found. We’re all learning together. 🙂

        1. Absolutely. Much as I love books I can’t imagine what it must have been like homeschooling before we could Google anything and everything!

  2. I love the chuffed look of satisfaction on your son’s face! You know you’ve hit the right note in your lesson planning when you’re rewarded with a look like that!

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  4. This is such a cool project and I know my kids will love it! a great way to get them doing a hands on activity that provokes creative thinking.

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