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Labyrinths as a Metaphor

The idea of the metaphor of the labyrinth to represent learning was sparked for me by Tiziana Filippini (Reggio Emilia, 2015, personal notes). Since then, I have been fascinated by mazes, labyrinths, and metaphors.

Tiziana suggested in deference to the Bronfenbrenner theory, where the child is ‘surrounded’ by their family and community (including politics, religion, education, and government), that instead, there is a reciprocal relationship. She suggested children are ‘inside their relationships with their families and the environment’. What did this mean, I wondered? Were Filippini's words lost in translation, or were they intentional? If this statement was deliberate, what did she mean?

I found an excellent article by Dr Alex Pattakos from the Huffington Post. It was titled 'Life and the Labyrinth of Meaning'.

Dr Pattakos writes:

A labyrinth is not a maze or a puzzle to be solved but a path of meaning to be experienced. Its path is circular and convoluted, but it has no dead ends. A labyrinth has one entrance — one way in and one way out. When we walk the path, we go around short curves and long curves; sometimes, we are out on the edge, and sometimes we circle around the centre. We are never really lost, but we can never quite see where we are going. 

Along the path, we sometimes move forward with ease and confidence: sometimes, we creep ahead cautiously; sometimes, we find the need to stop and reflect, and sometimes we even feel the urge to retreat. The centre is there, but our path takes us through countless twists and turns. Sometimes, we are at the heart of our life experiences; sometimes, we are at a playful turn; sometimes, we share our path with others, and other times we don't. No matter what, we are still on the labyrinth path. It holds all our experiences in life and work. And to draw upon the wisdom of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, we need to be aware that what looks like an endpoint also is a beginning point. Indeed, in so many ways, the labyrinth is like life (Pattakos, 2017).

What if children were inside a labyrinth of relationships?

What if children were inside a labyrinth of materials?

What if children were inside a labyrinth of environments?

What if children were inside a labyrinth of learning?

Can the labyrinth metaphor help us to think about children, their relationships, and their learning?

Can it provoke us to think of children as explorers and wonderers, with agency, curiosity, and the right to participate and walk their path?

Can the labyrinth metaphor help us understand the need for children to experience complexity instead of simplicity, as the metaphor suggests a need to go deeper? Can it help us to understand the value of sustained shared thinking?

Does the labyrinth metaphor help us understand that learning is not linear but a path of twists, turns, and deviations? Does the labyrinth metaphor suggest the continuity and discontinuity of learning and relationships?

What do you think?

Kerrie O’Neill

June 2024.