Tag Archives: Japan

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.

Japan – History & Geography

Japanese Ink Wash Painting - Evening Landscape (anon) c.1540
Japanese Ink Wash Painting – Evening Landscape (anon) c.1540

This post is about some “spin-off fun” we’ve been having as we’ve been learning about medieval Japan.

We’re using The Story of the World vol 2 as our “guidebook” for the Middle Ages, but this year we’re not using an accompanying activity guide or curriculum.

Instead, we’re enjoying coming up with our own ideas for spin-off activities. When I say “we” come up with ideas, of course I initiate most of them – but I’m guided by the children’s level of engagement and interest when it comes to how fully we explore each idea, and I’m always open to being led down new paths of their choosing. Sometimes we go off on tangents that take us far away from history, and that’s ok.

Japanese Writing

Japanese writing is made up of three alphabets, one of which is a collection of Chinese characters. We had recently looked at Chinese characters when we learned about Chinese New Year, so I thought it would be interesting to compare Japanese writing with Chinese. The article I found also compared Korean, so we looked at that too.

comparison of japanese chinese and korean for kids
Comparing Japanese, Chinese and Korean writing

I found two examples each of Chinese, Japanese and Korean writing (using Google Images). We examined one set of examples and talked about similarities and differences. Then we used this article to help us distinguish them further. (In a nutshell, Korean has lots of ovals and circles, Chinese characters are the most complex, and Japanese contains some Chinese characters plus other characters, many of which are curvy.)

comparison of japanese chinese and korean for kids

Finally, the children looked at “blind” copies of each type of writing (I had cut off anything that identified what they were). They found it fairly easy (and enjoyable) to identify where each type of writing came from.

japanese name translator
Writing our names in Japanese

We then looked up our names in Japanese. This name translator translates into various writing styles, including traditional Japanese and Manga. We wrote out our names in both styles using paintbrushes dipped in black ink, and C also wanted to write hers out using her calligraphy pen.

japanese name translator
Using black ink and a paintbrush to write Japanese letters

Ink Wash Painting

While we had the black ink and paintbrushes out, I showed the children some examples of Japanese ink wash painting and they decided to have a go. We didn’t have Japanese rice paper so we used diluted black ink on wet watercolour paper. (I have to ‘fess up – I did buy some A4 edible rice paper before I realised this is not the stuff the Japanese paint on! Oh well, I’m sure we will find a fun way to use it!)

Hasegawa Tohaku Pine Trees Japanese Ink Wash Painting
“Pine Trees” by Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610)

I based my painting on Pine Trees by Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610). The children’s designs were, of course, were much more original!

japanese ink wash painting for kids
Our ink wash paintings

Origami Kimonos

We were amused to learn that the exotic-sounding word “kimono” actually translates as “thing to wear”! It is composed of two Chinese symbols. “Ki” comes from “kuru” and means “to wear”, and “mono” means thing.

japan lapbook - origami kimono
From C(9)’s Lapbook

C(9) thought this origami kimono girl would look good in her lap book. The directions are simple, and no special paper is required – you just print out the page and then cut out, fold and assemble the pretty patterned kimono pieces. C(9) did comment that it was a bit of a cheat as real origami wouldn’t call for glue!

Japanese Kites

Kites were first brought to Japan from China by Buddhist missionaries, for use in sacred ceremonies. The Japanese developed their own distinctive style of kites, and began to use them for practical purposes, such as lifting building materials and sending messages. They were also used to raise soldiers into the air to act as spies or snipers!

Find out more about the origin of kites here and Japanese kite history here.

Japanese kites lapbook  minibook
C(9)’s minibook on Japanese kites

C(9) loved researching Japanese kites and enjoyed making a mini-book about them.


We learned that Japan is an archipelago – a large group of islands – and we compared the islands’ size with the island we live on, Britain. (See this image for a comparison of Japan’s size with the USA). When we saw that the distance from the north to the south of Japan is the same as the distance from Scotland to the south of Spain, we understood why Japan has such a varied climate.

salt dough map of japan
Salt dough map of Japan

Japan is located on the “Ring of Fire” – the zone of volcanic activity surrounding the Pacific Ocean. We contrasted Japan’s position on the boundary of several tectonic plates with Britain’s location inside the Eurasian Plate, and reflected on what this means for our respective societies. This has also launched a spin-off project on volcanoes and earthquakes!

We’re away next week, but when we get back I’ll be sharing more Japan spin-off fun, involving Samurai and Zen gardening.

To see what other homeschoolers have been doing this week, visit It’s A Wrap at Hammock Tracks and Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners.

For more geography and history ideas, visit Adventures in Mommydom.


Homegrown Learners
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