Getting Innovative: labyrinths in schools
3Qs and an A
what is a visual and geometric symbol that has a long history and is being looked at in new and inviting ways in educational settings?
what is a visual and geometric symbol that can benefit and nurture physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual development for all age groups?
what is a visual and geometric symbol that is universal and multicultural, arousing curiosity and endowed with a good dose of mystery?
Three questions … and they all have the same answer! The visual and geometric symbol referred to is the labyrinth, a unicursal path that winds its way through a combination of twists, turns and spirals to a centre and then back out again by the same path (see some symbols below). There are no decisions to be made and there is no problem solving to be done when walking a labyrinth. Because it is a unicursal path it departs from left brain activity and enhances right brain activity.
Labyrinths have multitudes of applications in educational settings and can bring a host of benefits to an entire school community. As a single tool, whether permanent or temporary, large or small, it offers itself as a vehicle for hosts of activities with varying purposes. And this is where being innovative comes to the fore. Labyrinths lend themselves to all manner of possibilities for individuals, small and large groups across the complete age range within a school setting.
Benefits for a whole school community
Aesthetically, a labyrinth can be designed and viewed as an object of beauty and so become a permanent focal point in a school garden setting, open space, natural environment or playground. Likewise, a temporary labyrinth can be creatively constructed with found materials for specific purposes or it could be painted or taped to a material that can be stored, eg on canvas, plastic, or carpet.
In a whole school context labyrinths lend themselves to events involving ceremony and ritual such as the marking of profound passages of time, anniversaries, graduations from school, graduations from class to class, the beginning of a school year, a special school event, significant national days like ANZAC Day or for Reconciliation Week, symbolic actions and events in religious calendars, and the embedding of school values. Find more here.
Benefits for individuals
Everyone in a school community from youngest to not-so-young: children, staff, parents, caregivers, governance, and providers of special services can all benefit from walking a labyrinth. It doesn’t come with a complicated set of rules; all that is required is to trust the path, placing one foot in front of the other and letting one’s body calm down, slow down, release, quieten, destress, recalibrate, let go. In addition to calming and quieting the mind, individual activities can include self- reflection, gaining perspective, meditation, praying, processing grief, centreing, contemplation, processing tension, and self-observation. A walking experience is different for everyone.
Benefits for classes and students
Because a labyrinth is walked, it lends itself perfectly to learning through movement and the differentiation of content, process, environment and product to meet the needs of all learners. In a classroom context, finger labyrinths offer further possibilities. These are simply a small scale version of a ground labyrinth and are “walked” with one’s finger, often with the non-dominant hand. They can be made with all kinds of materials, and be temporary or permanent. Laminated sheets are often used so that each student has their own.
Curriculum connections know no bounds. We have begun mapping HPE, History, Measurement & Geometry and The Arts, mainly because we have been involved in projects in those areas, and we plan to continue mapping all Learning areas.
Keep an eye on the Curriculum Connections pathway on the enodatio website. The Australian Curriculum General capabilities: personal & social capabilities and critical and creative thinking also have strong linkage with labyrinths as a resource.
Here are some quotes from students at Churchie Anglican School who recently took part in World Labyrinth Day in Schools. From home!
I used the labyrinth by saying one thing that I’m thankful for which is a good way to show appreciation. And then when I get into the middle I pray. It’s a good way to calm down and relax if you’re stressed or angry. (Yr 6 student)
Labyrinths are different to normal walking because they are usually built with a winding path that’s within the shape of a circle. This path leads you to the middle of the labyrinth, which is usually in the very centre of the circle. Against my mum’s will, I gathered up all of the socks in the house and laid them out on the lawn so that I had a homemade labyrinth! Why socks? Well I had to use socks because we were in lockdown! (Yr 6 student)
I was inspired to make a labyrinth that I could walk through, so I stripped my bed and my brother’s, too, got a couple blankets and started making it. I used my labyrinth by walking through it and encouraging my family to walk through it too. I would recommend this for other schools because it feels so good having someone to thank for everything we have. (Yr 5 student)
Benefits for staff
The labyrinth form offers shifting, inspiring and renewing perspectives on its twisting and turning path. In this way it is a perfect tool within the professional development program for self-reflection and professional practice. Walking with an intention such as a question brings mental focus because no thought needs be given to the walk or the path itself. Possibilities include a regular practice such as a dedicated time as part of staff meeting, or end of term or end of semester reviews, or setting sights on a new academic year. Some walking think points include:
Are the goals I’ve set achievable? Do I need to rethink?
What makes me a good teacher? What would make me a better one?
Things didn’t go so well today. Is there something important I missed?
What was my greatest accomplishment today? What made it so?
Observe your teaching today from a distance. What would a casual observer have noticed?
What have been some of the challenges today? What could I do differently?
What have I learned about myself as a teacher this term? Semester?
How am I feeling about my Term/semester’s work? How have my ideas changed? What has been confirmed for me?
More can be found here. Walks can be taken individually or as a group. Taking dedicated time to self-reflect pays dividends.
Back to 3Qs and an A
The labyrinth is not only a mirror
but also a space for experience – space
for possibilities and opportunities, space for
new discovery and learning processes.*
From individuals, to groups and classes, to the whole school community, labyrinths can be of benefit in numerous ways, at numerous times and for numerous purposes. Once familiar with them as a tool and resource it’s down to creative and innovative thinking when it comes to incorporating them into practice whether it be for physical, mental, social, emotional or spiritual development, or a combination of any of those human dimensions. Resources to answer the what, the where, the when, the why and the how questions can be found on Learning with Labyrinths, and facilitators to help with all-things-labyrinth can be sourced through our Contact page. Following our Facebook page will keep you up to speed on all the latest happenings, including an upcoming series of workshops.
*Quote: *Ilse M Seifried, ‘Being – reflected in the labyrinth’ in Hohmuth, J. 2003. Labyrinths & Mazes. Prestel: Munich.
Lead photo: Opening of the Healesville Community Labyrinth 2011. Merrin Macs.