June Wood Element activities for children – by Karin Kalbantner-Wernicke and Bettye Jo Wray-Fears

In our previous blog we introduced the element Wood through a visualization exercise to help children begin to feel the Element in themselves and the environment.  The focus was on the imagination and creativity qualities that Wood Element offers in life. We will continue with Wood in this blog and expand on the way it supports child development.

Beside creativity and imagination, the Wood Element gives us two other important gifts, our physical mobility and flexibility. Here we want to emphasize that the development of flexibility happens as strongly in the mental capacity as in the physical. A good analogy of a flexible nature in someone can be seen in a bamboo tree. No matter which direction the wind blows, bamboo will stand upright over and over again. The following exercise is an example of how you can bring this experience to a family or small group of children. It creates a lot of movement involving rolling, turning and stretching that is good for everyone. Above all, it is really fun and brings laughter and play into the dynamics of any group.

June Wood imageThe World is Coloured

Particularly in springtime we experience a large variety of colours in nature. Everything blossoms, budding fresh green leaves and flowers of every hue.  Everywhere you look nature is full of energy and joy for life. The following exercise can bring all of these qualities to everyone in the family or group.

The family members sit down on a big towel of their own, and are told it is a large tub full of different colours, whatever they imagine. Everyone chooses one particular colour that they are sitting in and shares which colour they selected.  Each can say the special reason why the colour they picked is their colour for today. 

Then everybody should “paint himself” –if possible everywhere- with his favourite colour, by turning on his towel, rolling and lolling about. Encourage each to try all the movements possible in their tub.

Then ask, “Is your body totally covered with colour? Well, now let’s paint the floor!“

Everybody rolls and rolls throughout the space. There are obstacles everywhere! If another person is touched, their colours mix. What colour is it now?

After a few minutes everybody sits up.

 “So, now let’s paint the soles of each other’s feet – pick a partner and ask your partner which colour he would like.  Apply the colour firmly on your partner’s soles. When you are done, everybody stand up and make footprints with big or small steps in the whole room! Now, try to walk in the footprints of another person and see what it feels like to walk in their steps.”

Everybody has to go under a shower afterwards. Everyone searches for a place in the room for himself/herself and shakes the colours off vigorously under their shower.

To end, everyone must hop until they are dry!

The physical activity of this exercise allows the Wood Element’s need for large movements, imagination, loud noises, and stretching for everyone.  Allow the dynamics of the group to unfold. There might be natural directors that appear as others ideas and creativity come and go. Give room for each to experience and work out what might be difficult or easy in the interactions and instructions. Experiencing any difficulty is as important as experiencing the ease in all of the Five Element exercises, as participants have the opportunity to try out new solutions.

If anger appears, allow this. Anger is the natural response to frustration and the emotion expressed in the Wood Element. Activities that give children permission to experiment with anger, supports healthy development as they learn how to manage this strong energy. For those that struggle moving through this emotion, the following exercise can be added:

Lightning Power

Kalbantner-Wern_Children-at-The_978-1-84819-118-1_colourjpg-webSit without shoes on a chair.  Cling your toes into the floor and tense all the muscles of your feet.

Now imagine a lightning bolt which sends the anger down into the floor. If the child likes he/she can also clench the hands and make a grimace with the face.

After a while relax and enjoy how much lighter everything feels now.

We invite you to look for what comes next month as we enter into the Fire Element and season of summer. This article can be downloaded in a pdf format by clicking on this link so that you can start creating a notebook of Five Element exercises that will be offered each month. You can find more information and examples of how the Five Elements support development in children in the book, Children at Their Best: Understanding and Using the Five Elements to Develop Children’s Full Potential for Parents, Teachers, and Therapists, published by Singing Dragon.

NEXT: July Fire Element Activities – nicking socks and making faces

 

Springtime Wood Element activities for children – by Karin Kalbantner-Wernicke and Bettye Jo Wray-Fears

This blog is an invitation to parents, teachers, therapists and mentors of children to join us in having fun with a seasonal series of stimulating Five Element activities that can support development in all ages!  These entries can be downloaded and printed off in pdf format by clicking this link so that you can enjoy making your own notebook of Five Element exercises for each month and season of the year.  We hope you have as much fun being creative with these ideas and projects as we have with many children and families.

May Wood imageSince we are beginning this series in springtime we will start with the Wood Element, the perfect place to start any activity with children. Wood Element marks the time of new beginnings and all the bursting energy of creativity and expanding growth like the first spring flowers breaking through the ground and fresh green buds on the trees and bushes. If you have lived in a place that has long, cold winters, you know the antsy feeling of wanting to move, jump, and stretch in every direction to greet the sun and warm air of the coming spring! This is exactly what children feel physically as they are developing gross and fine motor skills and testing them out for the first time, or emotionally and cognitively as they are learning new activities and seeing the possibilities of what they can do next from their new development!

The following exercises can be used with a family, classroom, or group of children to experience qualities of Wood:

 A Tree in the Forest

Have the group of participants get comfortable and read the visualization below.

Imagine you are a seedling of your favorite tree or plant in the earth. You can feel other seedlings around you nestled in the soil tucked up tight with the earth and each other to keep warm from the cold of winter.  But now the earth is getting warmer.  You feel something growing bigger inside you day by day.  You feel itchy and antsy to let it out, until finally the energy gets so strong that it bursts out in every direction!  Your roots shoot down into the soil, and your trunk, branches, and leaves up and out towards the sun.  You feel the roots of the other trees around you and playfully you all race each other toward the sun and sky!  Feel how strong, fresh and new you feel in the freedom to grow!

When finished have everyone draw a picture of what they saw themselves as in a forest with each other. Pick a wall or board to have everyone create the forest with their pictures hanging together.

A Family/Group Springtime Walk

Talk about springtime and get ideas from the group about what they notice with the plants, animals, and colours in nature.  What does their body and air feel like in the room when they talk about this? Wood Element brings the development of imagination, movement, planning and creativity. Allow all ideas, there are no right or wrong answers.  Let them express how they experience and relate this time of year to themselves.  After everyone has a chance to share, get ready for a walk outside and invite all to pick one item up from nature that reminds them of spring.  When you get back from the walk, place all the items found on a table or cloth for everyone to touch and admire. This can be left on a season table somewhere in the room or house, and the children can be invited to continue to add items and be creative with the table throughout the season. Remember, that it is not about looking perfect to the adult eyes!  Let the children find all the awkward and balanced expressions of Wood Element and have fun seeing what they create. Permission to play and express is the key to growth.

Splitting the Tree

Every Element has an emotion associated with its development. The creative energy of the Wood Element brings emotions of frustration and anger when this dynamic desire cannot Kalbantner-Wern_Children-at-The_978-1-84819-118-1_colourjpg-webmove. This last exercise we offer is to support the healthy movement of anger. Use pillows, plastic bat, cardboard tube, anything safe to allow a child to get as physically active as she/he needs to express their emotion.

Imagine a big trunk of a tree on the floor in front of you. With an axe, you want to use all your power to split the trunk. But it is so hard to do that you get really angry! Take all your energy and power and keep striking the trunk until you feel tired and can rest, feeling calm.

For more information about the Five Elements and the way they can support child development, read Children at Their Best: Understanding and Using the Five Elements to Develop Children’s Full Potential for Parents, Teachers, and Therapists released in April 2014 with Singing Dragon.

NEXT: June Wood Element activities – a colourful world and lightning power!

Developing habits to restore calmness: Qigong healing sounds for children and adults alike

By Lisa Spillane, author and illustrator of Six Healing Sounds with Lisa and Ted: Qigong for Children.


The Six Healing Sounds teach children the calming benefit of pausing and using the breath to connect to the present. Observing the sensations of the body without thinking about the past or the future strengthens our awareness of the peace we have at the core of our being. In Qigong, negative emotions are not considered ‘bad’. Holding onto, cultivating and acting on negative emotions is when the ‘bad’ comes into things. Because negative emotions are part of the ego and have a role to play (mainly related to survival) it’s good to learn how to acknowledge them, listen to anything useful they are trying to communicate and then release the excess of them. Central to this practice is an acceptance that trying to resist, ignore or smother your feelings will only, in the end, make them grow stronger. Rather than letting negative emotions have the driving seat over your brain and body you can teach yourself how to regain calm.

The exercise that generates the most feedback from my book,
Six Healing Sounds with Lisa and Ted: Qigong for Children, is the one that helps children to stop worrying. Basically, worry happens when we meditate on fear, and being fearful gets in the way of clear thinking. When faced with a threat, the mind instinctively becomes more focussed on the urgent actions needed for survival and less inclined towards higher levels of thinking. This ‘fight or flight’ response far exceeds the requirements of our contemporary daily stressors. For children, things like spelling tests and unfamiliar situations and ideas can be interpreted as a ‘threat’, stimulating their adrenal glands and provoking biochemical changes in the brain that incline them to freeze, fight, hide or run. Over-stimulation of the adrenal glands takes its toll on the body, so it’s especially important to develop habits to restore calmness. Through a combination of smiling, deep breathing, visualization, positive thinking, gentle movements and sound-making Qigong breathing techniques help to reverse the body’s stress response and instead support its physical and mental well-being.

These exercises might seem strange when you first encounter them but there is a growing body of scientific research to support them. In my book, Ted overcomes his worries by doing the healing sound exercise for the stomach. The stomach together with the oesophagus, small intestine and the colon, make up what we refer to as the gut. We all know what it’s like to have ‘butterflies in the stomach’ and ‘gut feelings’, but it is a lesser known fact that there are about the same amount of neurotransmitters (one hundred million) in the gut as in the brain. These nerve cells communicate with each other via chemical and electric signalling, processing information and learning from past patterns. The healing sound exercise for the stomach helps children to establish healthy patterns for when they encounter worry. Instead of supporting an anxiety-driven chain reaction, they learn to pause, close their eyes, smile and breathe in the feeling of trust and openness into the belly. They think about their stomach smiling and filling up with a warm yellow light. Then, with eyes open, they exhale worry with a ‘whooooooo’ sound, imagining it leaving them as dark cloudy smoke. Doing this helps the brain and the stomach to calm each other down. Smiling produces serotonin and nearly all of that ‘feel-good’ chemical goes to the gut to help it with digestion. It also reduces cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenaline and it helps you to relax by getting the brain to release chemicals that not only make you feel happier, but support your immune system too. And, breathing deeply gives the brain a chance to see the broader picture, it’s calming and detoxifying and helps you to feel more positive.


Click to hear what the Six Healing Sounds should sound like!


Worry and anxiety is what keeps most of us awake at night. I know from personal experience and from the response of many of my readers that this practice works as well for adults as it does for children. I actually get a lot of adults telling me they’ve bought my book for themselves!

When you are doing this exercise, yourself or with a child, gently rub your stomach in a clockwise direction. Cast your mind on beautiful images of late summer (in Qigong, each organ is associated with a season) and as you smile, picture your stomach smiling too. Practising gratitude is medicine for the body and the soul so as you do this exercise, say ‘thank you’ to your stomach for all the hard work it does.

A little bit of time spent doing the Six Healing Sounds helps to promote relaxation both physically and mentally. It is also a great way to introduce children to the benefits of Qigong from a young age, and crucially, gives them tools to help themselves to deal with life’s challenges.

Join the Six Healing Sounds with Lisa and Ted: Qigong for Children community on Facebook!

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2012.

VIDEO: Lisa Spillane demonstrates the Six Healing Sounds – Qigong for Children

Lisa Spillane is the author and illustrator of the new book, Six Healing Sounds with Lisa and Ted: Qigong for Children, which teaches young children how to transform negative feelings into positive ones by using simple breathing techniques that are based on ancient Chinese Qigong exercises.

Using a special sound for different parts of the body, Lisa and Ted show that a “haaaww” can heal the heart and blow away impatience, and a “whooooooo” can steady the stomach and chase away worries.

In this video, Lisa demonstrates each healing sound from the story so that parents, teachers, carers and children can make sure they’re getting the most from them.

Click below to see how it’s done!

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Lisa Spillane qualified as a teacher of Art and Design at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in Dublin, Ireland. She also has a master’s degree in Education and is a co-founder and former Director of Artlink Ltd., a charitable company promoting access to art in the North West of Ireland. Having taught at a number of schools, Lisa went on to work for several years in Northern Ireland on community projects with children and young people. She learned Qigong meditation from attending classes taught by Grandmaster Mantak Chia. Lisa currently lives in Brussels, Belgium.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.

Lisa Spillane on How Qigong can help children who feel ‘pushed and pulled’ by their emotions

In this interview, Singing Dragon author Lisa Spillane answers some questions about her new book, Six Healing Sounds with Lisa and Ted: Qigong for Children, which teaches young children how to transform negative feelings into positive ones by using simple breathing techniques that are based on ancient Chinese Qigong exercises.

Tell us about your background and your experience of Qigong.

While I’m thankful for the many happy times I enjoyed as a child, it’s mainly the challenges I faced in my early years that have led me to write this book. I was born in New York and lived there until my father died shortly before my eighth birthday. After that we moved to Ireland where my parents were from. My father died from a brain tumor which he suffered with for two years, and the trauma of that and subsequently moving to a new and very different country was a lot to deal with for a little girl. In time, those experiences gave me a desire to pursue a career in education with the aim of helping children to express themselves.

I qualified as a Teacher of Art and Design, and for my Master’s Degree in Education I researched and developed programs for children from at-risk backgrounds and for young offenders. Nearly twenty years ago, along with two artists, I co-founded Artlink, a charity located in the Northwest of Ireland that provides opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to learn and experience art. My childhood experiences coupled with what I’ve learned through teaching have reinforced my view that children need to be taught techniques to manage their emotions so they can develop lifelong habits to protect themselves from the consequences of stress.

I was introduced to Qigong meditation by attending classes taught by Grandmaster Mantak Chia three years ago. Since then I’ve continued to learn through local trainers in Brussels, where I live, and through self-research. The first time I did the Inner Smile and Six Healing Sounds meditational exercises it occurred to me, when I was being shown how to rub my liver, that previous to that moment I hadn’t given much thought to its location. My organs were like abstract objects that I was connected to on a very superficial level. And, it dawned on me how ridiculous it was that even though I’d had this body for so many years and took an interest in health and nutrition, I was unable to confidently point to my spleen, pancreas or liver. I thought to myself that if I’d learned these exercises as a child, not only would I have known more about my body but I’d have been able to help myself in those dark times when I felt pushed and pulled by my emotions. Qigong techniques can help children to understand their emotions better and to have more control over them by showing them that they have the power to transform negative ones into positive ones through utilizing the body-mind connection.

What are the Six Healing Sounds and where do they come from?

This book combines the Six Healing Sounds and the Inner Smile Qigong meditational exercises. Qigong is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The exercises were developed thousands of years ago in China to help people to purge toxic negative emotions from their bodies. Doing them combats the dangerous effects of stress by activating the body’s own healing systems through a combination of: deep breathing, smiling, touch, gentle movements, sound vibrations and positive thoughts. Many of the elements we do instinctively, which is how the doctors of ancient China became aware of them. They created the healing sounds from observing the noises (sighs and groans) people make for different ailments because they realized that these sounds cool and detoxify the body’s organs. In the practice, each organ has its own healing sound, color and set of positive and negative emotions. Also, each organ has a season and associated elements. For example, the season for the liver is spring and its element is wood. To avoid information overload, I’ve only suggested the seasons and elements through the stories and illustrations so that children can absorb them with less effort.

Why are they so beneficial?

Although the exercises are simple and easy to learn, there are many complex scientific reasons for why they work. A good number of those reasons have only become evident to us in recent years through advancements in brain scanning which, for example, has proved that smiling, even when we don’t feel like it, produces endorphins in the brain which help to reduce stress and support the immune system. Neuroscience has also shown that thoughts of gratefulness and appreciation calm the nervous system and protect the heart. We instinctively know that using the breath to calm down is very effective. And, deep breathing also increases the amount of oxygen rich blood in the body which is needed for energy and healing and it boosts the lymphatic system helping it to get rid of toxins.

Is there a “right way” to do them?

There are many variations to this practice. This book demonstrates the exercises I learned from Grandmaster Mantak Chia. I’ve tried others but these are the ones I prefer. That said, I felt it was necessary to make some alterations so they’d be more accessible for children. In the second story I chose to refer to just the stomach, even though it should be the stomach, spleen and pancreas because I didn’t want to overwhelm young readers with too many new words. And, it’s good for them to focus on the stomach at this stage in their lives because there’s so much temptation for children to comfort themselves through eating junk food. This gives them an alternative to trying to numb their feelings of worry with food. I’ve also made alterations to the Triple Warmer exercise. This exercise doesn’t relate to a specific organ, but because it aims to even out the body temperature by bringing hot energy down from the head and cooler energy up from the feet it made sense to me to describe the hot energy as the chattering, busy thoughts in the brain. The exercise ends with Ted resting his hands on his stomach which is roughly the Dan Tian area, which relates to this exercise.

For readers who’d like more clarity regarding the sounds: “haaaww” rhymes with “saw”, “whooooooo” is like the sound an owl makes except longer, “sssssssss” is like the sound a snake makes, “tchewwwww” is like a sneeze sound “achoo” except made slowly and without the “a”, the “shhhhh” sounds like you’re telling someone to be quiet and finally “heeeeee” rhymes with “pea”. And, although you should try experimenting with the volume it’s recommended that the sounds be made softly and slowly.

It’s best to do all the organs in the order they are shown in the book, making the sound at least three times for each one, but you can concentrate on just one or as many as you like as long as you do them in the right order. The more you do this the more you will make it your own. If you get caught up in trying to do it perfectly then you won’t get the most out of it. There are also postures and movements as well as other emotions for the organs to be learned but what’s in this book is more than enough to make a good start with. Learning this practice should be seen as a continuous lifelong process that taps into our inherent abilities to heal ourselves.

Undoubtedly we could all gain something from these exercises – why did you decide to write it for children?

There’s an abundance of information on the internet and many excellent books and videos that teach adults how to do these exercises but from what I see there’s very little on the subject for children. Firing up the imagination with colors and beautiful imagery, smiling and making different sounds are all things I knew would appeal to young readers and the earlier we can learn tools to deal with our emotions the better. The format of a children’s picture book is a great learning tool because it allows for a lot of the information to be presented visually. When we use our eyes to dart around the page to look at all the different elements it helps the brain to create meaning and record images, thoughts and feelings together which in the future help us to remember the sequence of the exercises with all the associated information. And, I think many adults will find through the experience of sharing the book with children that they’re benefiting from the practice too.

How do you use these exercises in your own life?

I try to do the practice daily, either in the morning to give me energy and optimism for the day ahead or before bed as a way of clearing out all the emotional garbage that I’ve collected over the course of my day. More significantly for me though are the benefits I gain from weaving the Healing Sounds into all aspects of my life. For instance, I’ve recently taken up yoga, so when I’m doing a pose that works on, for example the kidneys, I’ll smile and breathe in peace, imagining deep blue calm water filling them and then I’ll make the “tchewww” sound as I breathe out my fears. Or, if I’m confronted with any kind of a challenging situation, I’ll take a moment to smile, breathe, connect to the relevant part of my body and if I happen to be in a public place and don’t want to draw attention to myself I’ll imagine that I’m making the sound as I exhale. I find it helps to stop the stress cycle. Simply smiling, breathing, being aware of what my body is telling me and being positive instead of negative helps to put me back in control of the ship, as it were. Also, if I become aware that I’m worried about something I’ll smile and gently rub my stomach, spleen and pancreas and that helps to calm me down as I try to think rationally about whatever it is that’s bothering me.

Essentially it’s all about making a loving connection to oneself and others. When I’m outside taking nature in, I’ll look at the leaves on the trees and connect with my liver and think about filling it up with generosity and kindness. It’s a great way to quieten the “monkey mind” – to stop negative self-talk and instead bring thoughts of appreciation and joy into the mind and body.

Spiritually it’s been good for me in many ways. For example, when I’m praying I usually begin with a few cleansing breaths and making the “haaaww” sound I’ll think about my heart, release any resentments in it and then fill it up with loving attitudes. And, like Ted in the story, when I have trouble sleeping I make the “heeeee” sound and push all the noise from my head out of my body so I feel more relaxed and ready for sleep.

What do you hope readers, including parents and teachers, will gain from the book?

When my son Dualta was a little boy, it was usually when I was reading him a bedtime story that he would decide to tell me about the ups and downs of his day. Mindful of this need to “offload” at bedtime, I’ve written the stories short enough to give children the space to bring up any negative feelings that may be troubling them. Also parents can choose to just concentrate on one or two stories depending on what particular emotions are raised. For example, if a child is grieving over the loss of a pet it might be more appropriate to just do the lungs and the heart. Using this book as a guide, it’s my hope that readers are led through a process which soothes away troubling emotions so they feel calm and ready for a good night’s sleep.

Teachers can use this book to encourage children to learn about their bodies and to consider how their attitudes and behavior effects themselves and others. Learning through stories is a fun way for children to absorb information and they can relate the scenarios to challenges they face in their own lives. It can be used to prompt children to share their experiences and in so doing they will learn that emotions and feelings are a natural part of life and common to everyone. More importantly, the exercises will help them to see that they can learn ways to manage their emotions and cultivate a sense of peace within themselves.

*Singing Dragon is an imprint of Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.