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Labyrinth - Environmental Empathy - Mon 18 Jun 2007

posted 1 Jun 2014, 10:59 by Mark O'Connell   [ updated 3 Jun 2014, 13:35 ]

Today we gave a short-notice session at the Apricot Centre for 90 students from a local Primary School, and their teachers and teaching assistants. It went really well. We split each group of 30 into groups of 10 children and they circulated over the period of 1.5 hours through three different experiences with 3 facilitators, one on each, followed by a whole group reflection session. Group 1 - Walking a labyrinth blindfold in Nature. Group 2 - Tasting and smelling session, foods, and animal pooh. Group 3 - Making postcards with attached pieces of nature around.

The aim of this was Environmental Empathy, having a feeling and identification with the environment.

I learnt loads about working with 10-13 year olds. And specifically in the labyrinth space.  Here's a list of my observations:

    * All young people were up for the experience even though some were frightened.

    * Teachers were reluctant to trust their students such that they themselves be blindfolded, but when they did, they had a strong and valuable experience. E.g. one boy who I think was autistic was led blindfold through the labyrinth, he was highly sensitive, and smelled and experienced everything. We were odd numbers so I suggested he lead his teacher. She declined saying she wasn't sure if she could trust him. I said he had gone through it with such sensitivity I was sure she could. She agreed, and he led her to the centre and out again, including giving her experiences and with no bumping into trees. I felt she had gained from the experience. And it took her out of her usual role of being responsible for caring for him, and temporarily letting him care for her, and take some responsibility. Loads of benefits.

    * Some teachers bullied their students, and expected me to be impressed. I didn't comment directly, but listened intently and when they saw I wasn't impressed the behaviour diminished.

    * Teachers can often be very stuck in their roles of controlling and managing children. Even when I provided the whole team with rules such as no speaking, no verbal direction giving, lead with the hands or voice. Teachers were breaking these rules left right and centre, shouting at kids, telling them off, guiding them verbally, and one chap talked loudly to me from the centre all the way to the exit without noticing I had asked him and everyone to do it in silence.

    * The kids learn from these behaviours. Some kids act out in similar ways. Some kids are also quite attuned to the sensory experiences.

    * A girl smelled a Bay Leaf, and said 'Sheperds Pie'. I later asked her to smell two leaves and recall which was sheperds pie. She said her gran had cooked it for her last week.

    * I learnt to space the children out in the start of the labyrinth.

    * I did keep reminding them 'Sssssssh' and spoke occasionally with a quiet voice.

    * I used alot of mime and demonstration to the leaders. Sometimes I would instruct them in a whisper.

    * I gathered the whole group in the centre. Told them they were at the centre of the Universe and to listen out. Feel what you feel on your skin. Listen to sounds near and furthest. Feel the Earth beneath your feet. Don't touch your neighbour. Now take 30 seconds in complete silence to experience ...

    * We again gave them herbs to smell along the way. Most of them thought that all the herbs were 'Mint'. Only the occasional child new of other herbs. The older teaching assistants knew the most rare herb - Feverfew.

    * Trust was a huge issue. Many of the childrens were very uncomfortable - initially to hold hands or guide each other physically (one commented on it being 'Gay'). But they all did. Many were not able to guide their partners so their partner could relax, but they learned along the way. Some had incredible sensitivities to one another. I was very touched! I think this is a huge opportunity for kids and staff alike to explore trust, touch, senses, and sensitivity. Lots of opportunities to learn here.

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