Crisis Leads to Creativity
By Kyla Alexander, China Operations Director
A simple daily activity we call “Circle Time” has been a key activity in ICC’s projects. Since ICC first started working in China’s social welfare institutions more than 25 years ago, Circle Time has been a place of learning and joy.
Circle Time, which happens within the child’s ICC family group, is designed to become an activity of learning, stimulation and connection with each other. The children, caregiving staff and facilitators (normally ICC’s teachers and therapists) sit in a circle together and engage in activities that promote learning, connection and communication. They play games, sing songs and have fun together.
Limited Activities for Children During Lockdown
The onset of Covid-19 restrictions and being in lockdown changed the way ICC was able to meet the needs of the children. Our therapy and education rooms had to be turned into sleeping areas for additional staff and we needed to become creative with activities for the children.
These changes had a huge effect on the children and young people. Their normal programs and routines were drastically changed. The one thing we decided we could continue to provide for our young people during the lockdown was Circle Time – an opportunity only made possible because three international volunteers decided to stay within the project during lockdown.
"As not all our caregiving staff could leave their families, our therapists and teacher had to take on caregiving roles to cover the most essential needs of the children. In essence, we were in crisis so normal therapy and education could not continue."
Alison, Hilda and Madeline took on the role of rotating through the homes to work with the caregiving staff to facilitate circle times. As they spent precious time with the children, they began to see the children’s needs through fresh eyes that inspired creativity.
Sensory Discovery Through Storytelling
In the days leading up to Covid-19, Alison had been reading about and studying the concept of "sensory stories" – an activity that could potentially meet the needs of ICC kids. The international team started to integrate sensory stories into circle times and the results were amazing.
To get this going, these three ladies hunted through the children’s library for fun stories that had the potential to engage all of the children’s senses.
One of these sensory stories was "The Panda Adventure". In this story, the children are taken on a journey into the forest by a panda. While reading about the forest, they encountered leaves – in the form of a green soft material – brushing over their faces. They encountered a vibrating bug that jumps on every child and gives them a little massage. They encountered frogs in the form of a puppet that makes quite a racket as it croaks. The children got to smell the forest as cream was rubbed into their hands. And, when they got lost in the forest, they discovered magical, glowing mushrooms that lead them back home again.
Each sensory story also has a song that encourages responses from the children. All the children’s names were incorporated into the song as they went around in the circle during Circle Time. The children were able to feel, hear, see and smell the story as they engaged with the leaders and each other.
Impact of Circle Time on Children and Young Adults
During these many weeks of lockdown, we have seen the positive impact of the sensory circle times on the children. Children who had normally slept through circle time activities were engaged with eyes open – watching and learning.
Children started to joyfully jiggle and dance as ribbons floated over their heads. Children who would normally hold back on activities were finding confidence to reach for a water pot in order to experience the sensation of water over their hands. And, we have seen children’s emotions regulated, calmed, and sometimes heightened.
One unexpected, positive impact of sensory story telling has been seen in the lives of our young adults. Circle Time, with this new component, became an activity where young adults joyfully connected and bonded with one another. Many of them are now asking for circle time to become part of their routine. Moving forward we will be training our youth workers to do sensory story telling for our young adults with special learning needs.
"Circle Time, with this new component, became an activity where young adults joyfully connected and bonded with one another."
Things are slowly getting back to normal in China. While these new activities during Circle Time have encouraged all of us through this season of lockdown, we anticipate that sensory story telling will become a regular part ICC’s programs in the months ahead. Alison and Hilda have already started to train our therapists, teachers and caregivers across all ICC projects. To us this feels like a ground breaking program, and an example of creativity born out of crisis, that will transform children's lives.