Dancing with Sheep
There was one distinct session on the farm that moved me. It was the dance with the sheep in the yards. We had discussed the session beforehand. It was an opportunity for the children to learn to read a few pet animals in the sheep yard before we went out into the field. However, what I encountered was nothing that could have prepared me for what happened.
We put the children into threes, of mixed ages, with the farmer in the pen. The rest of the children watched from the sidelines. We spent time discussing how to be safe, how to read the animals and what to do if they felt unsafe. We made sure that each child understood. We opened the gate and let the ten pet ewes into the enclosed pen. Children learnt from the farmer, through a lot of verbal and non-verbal communication that if they stayed as a group and moved left, the sheep would move right. Each group practiced this through, talking and communicating as they went. This is what we had expected. Yet on entering the pen each the second time, we asked all the children not to talk –even the ones on the sidelines - as ultimately verbal communication from any side made the sheep react. A hush came over the group and what I experienced was something else. The children initially followed the lead of the farmer, but within five minutes, something else happened. The children were no longer merely turning left or right, but they were beginning to intuitively guess the sheep's movements. It was, if you like, the children dancing with the sheep. They did this without thinking. Instead, they trusted their bodies to move with their human friends at the same time and pace, while simultaneously directing the sheep to different parts of the pen. It was incredible to watch, both as a spectator, as a teacher and most of all, awakening my ability as a mentor, to trust.
Afterwards, it made me think what if all children could come out to a sheep yard, to experience some of the magic of what I just saw? Or the opportunity to bring prisoners and juvenile offenders into the sheep pen and what might unfold there. Would it be the same as the magic I had just experienced with the children? Seeing them slow down to a place of stillness, yet completely honed into their inner and outer awareness?
In reflection, children had found it in equal parts both terrifying, exciting and calming.
We know that when children are invested emotionally, they learn better and recall more. Will they remember this day? I’m not sure. But I definitely will.
This was the first session in the pen with the sheep.