Trying something new that’s actually ancient

blog-trying-something-new-600x600Last year we put a lot of time and effort into planning and installing a labyrinth in our Children’s Garden. We never officially had a “grand opening,” as the work we put into our site, including the remediation of the soil and working on drainage issues, continued through the fall. The pathways, or circuits, are in but the finishing touches like a final layer of pea gravel, plantings in between the pathways and focal points around the perimeter will be completed this growing season.

Knowing that many of the students only have a cursory knowledge of labyrinths and what they are used for, I am determined to make our student body a more informed group regarding the benefits of walking labyrinths. I’m not going to wait for our labyrinth to be finished, in fact I’m not even going to wait until we are back in the garden with the opportunity to use our labyrinth. I hope to spark curiosity and interest on this subject starting now. To this end, we are practicing drawing labyrinths, making textural finger labyrinths, reading about the history of these archetypal designs and planning the details that we will add to our own labyrinth.

Why study and construct labyrinths with children facing social, emotional and behavioral challenges?

Emotionally, the labyrinth is meant to help center an unfocused or agitated mind. It is used as a meditative tool, one that can bring clarity, quiet an overactive mind and may even become a coping tool. The labyrinth can be effective whether you are walking it or tracing it with your hand. While creating their individual labyrinths, I was amazed at how many students who are often hard to keep on task were literally devoted to this undertaking. Successful completion of a challenging project brought big smiles and feelings of authentic satisfaction to many. Building self-esteem is super important, especially for students who struggle in one or more areas of their life.

Academically, drawing the labyrinth is a challenge. It took me several tries to have the steps make sense in my mind. Just creating the initial intersecting, perpendicular lines included new vocabulary, use of a ruler and measurement and the ability to follow a multi-stepped process. Read-alouds about the history of the labyrinth for the older students required comprehension, touched on history and gave willing students the opportunity to read to their classmates. Never underestimate the importance of practicing public speaking!

Creatively, fabricating the finger labyrinth from botanicals reaped from our garden involved decision-making and recognition of particular seeds, dried flowers and other plant-based matter. Fine motor skills were challenged when having to follow the spiraling lines with a glue bottle, as well as when placing small items such as coriander seeds only where desired. The ability to plan and follow a multiple step process also played a part, while learning to responsibly care for class supplies was practiced.

My belief is that not everyone will respond to or grasp every way in which we approach this somewhat metaphysical topic, but by offering different modalities of working with the concept of the labyrinth, we are erecting a cognitive framework around the subject in a way that almost all of the students will have a deeper understanding and appreciation for it.


About Green Chimneys Garden

Green Chimneys was founded on the belief that children will benefit from their interaction with nature and animals. Horticulture comes to life in our educational school gardens, allowing Green Chimneys students to heal, learn, and grow. Learn more about about our nature-based approach to special education by visiting
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3 Responses to Trying something new that’s actually ancient

  1. zmusashi says:

    What great exercises, it will mean much more to then when you all work on it again in the spring to finish it and when they walk it again themselves individually. I wish I had a labyrinth in my backyard- I could use it! I walked one at the top of the Berkeley hills when I lived up there. But you’ve got me thinking a hand-drawn one could be like a mandala for centering and a meditative mental focus exercise. Great work you’re doing.

    • Yes, very similar to the Mandala! I’m planning on a doing a workshop for my colleagues in April where we will make three dimensional finger labyrinths. We’re going to create the line of the design with a heavy laundry line-type rope. Then, we’ll cover is with paper-mache and finally paint it!

  2. Cathlene says:

    Can I be invited? This sounds fantsstic!

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