FEATURE | Crisis Leads to Creativity
A simple daily activity we call “circle times” has been a key activity in ICC’s projects since our early days, when we first started working in China’s social welfare institutions more than 25 years ago.
Circle times are run in the children’s homes, in their family groups, and are designed to promote learning, stimulation and connection with each other. The children, caregiving staff, and facilitators, who are normally teachers or therapists, sit in a circle and engage in games, songs and having fun together.
When COVID-19 restrictions hit our Hengyang Care Centre in February and lockdowns started, our therapy and education rooms had to be turned into sleeping areas for the staff.
Limited Activities for Children During Lockdown
“As not all our caregiving staff could leave their families, our therapists and teachers had to take on caregiving roles, to cover the most essential needs of the children. We were in crisis, and normal therapy and education couldn’t continue.”
This had a huge effect on the children and young people, as their normal programmes ceased. But one thing we decided we could maintain, and additionally provide for our young people during the lockdown was circle times. However, this could only be done because three international volunteers stayed in during the lockdown to manage and run the activities.
Alison, Hilda and Madeline took on the role of rotating through the homes to work with the caregiving staff to facilitate circle times.
As the international team were working so directly with the children, they saw the children’s needs with fresh eyes, of what they enjoyed and responded to. The ladies felt they needed some freshness and newness, and imagined the children did too.
Sensory Discovery Through Storytelling
Alison had been diving into reading and studying the concept of “sensory stories” and thinking through how to use them in our setting at the care centre.
There was an opportunity here in this time of crisis for creativity. They started to integrate sensory stories into circle times, and the results were amazing.
First up, the ladies hunted through the children’s library for fun stories they could make into something sensory by engaging all of the children’s senses.
One of the sensory stories created was “The Panda Adventure”. In this story the children are taken on a journey into the forest by a panda. They encounter leaves brushing over their faces; when a green soft material is wafted over them, they encounter a vibrating bug in the forest that jumps on every child and gives them a little massage; a noisy frog puppet that makes quite a racket croaking. The children smell the forest smells as hand cream is rubbed into their hands, and then when they get lost in the forest they discover magicglowing mushrooms that lead them back home again.
Each sensory story has songs that weave through it, allowing the children to respond to the music, and all the children’s names are incorporated into the song as their turn arrives in the circle. The children feel, hear, see and smell as they engage with the story and with each other.
Sensory story-telling helps children engage and stimulate their senses.
Impact on Children and Young Adults
During these weeks we have seen the impact of the sensory circle times on the children. Highlights include: seeing children that normally sleep through all activities opening their eyes, are now watching and engaging. We have seen children jiggle and dance as ribbons floated over their heads; and children that normally hold back in activities— diving for the water pot to put their hands in it and feel the sensation of the water.
“We have heard children sing that have never sung before; we have seen smiles and out-loud laughs; leaps of excitement and wide awesome grins.”
We have seen children reach out to grab an object, turn their heads to see what was happening. We have seen engagement and learning happening, we have seen children’s emotions regulated and calmed, and sometimes heightened.
One unexpected bonus has been how these stories have also helped our young adults, they also responded very well to the bonding-time and connecting of storytime together. Many of them ask for circle time, and so we will be training our youth workers to start doing stories with young adults with special learning needs. We anticipate this will help them with their emotional regulation, connection with others, and learning apart from being a joyful half-hour spent with friends.
Children use their senses to feel, hear, see and smell to connect with the story.
While sensory circle times have refreshed us all through this season they are not just for this season. Things are slowly going back to normal in China, and though we still do not have full therapy and education programmes back in swing yet, Alison and Hilda have started to train our therapists and teachers in how to run sensory circle times. We are looking to extend this programme, and develop resources to train others. To us, it feels like a new ground-breaking programme with much potential to transform children’s lives!