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Brockman Elementary School Peace Day 2008
     Lasting Labyrinths
               M. E. "Beth" Langley




Gray Court Owings Elementary School Montessori Students Build the Turtle Dreams Labyrinth!
January, 2013

Turtle Dreams Labyrinth

I like saying that the dreams that come true are the dreams you work for… and Linda Brashier is one who could testify to that being the truth.  Linda and I met nearly twenty years ago when we were both in the Early Childhood Montessori Program offered by the Institute for Guided Studies (IGS).  Later, she worked her way up through Montessori training at the both Early Childhood and Elementary I-II (6-13) programs, and I moved on to administration, first at the Montessori School of Camden, and later at IGS.  Linda and I became good friends, seeing each other at Montessori Educational Programs International (MEPI) conferences, IGS training events, and other Montessori functions. 

When I became interested in labyrinths, nearly all my workshop presentations at MEPI, South Carolina Montessori Alliance (SCMA), and Montessori Foundation/International Montessori Council (IMC) conferences were focused on labyrinths. The presentations were on history and drawing labyrinths, making finger labyrinths, creating temporary labyrinths, labyrinth activities and ceremonies for classroom or school use, and a formal Montessori style presentation of the the three circuit classical labyrinth.  I continued to research and learn more; I participated in the Veriditas Labyrinth Facilitator Program with Lauren Artress and became trained, then certified as a labyrinth facilitator. I spoke to art educators and master gardeners about labyrinths. I presented programs at schools about labyrinths. I even traveled to Mexico, Croatia, and Canada, and I’m sure you can guess why: to present on labyrinths.  For many of the organizations at places I’ve gone to I’ve also designed and built labyrinths.  I believe I have fourteen permanent labyrinths listed on the World Wide Labyrinth Locator ( most of them at public and private schools, both Montessori and conventional. And here is where Linda’s, and my, dream of building a labyrinth at her school, Gray CourtOwings Elementary School (GC-O) in Gray Court Owings began.

Linda and I both are creative and we wanted to do something really different for the labyrinth at GC-O.  We both like the symbolism of Turtle.  Turtles have long lives, and are a symbol of longevity, wisdom, and self-contained creative energy.  They are a symbol of home, security, shelter.  In many Native American stories, it is Turtle who helps create the world and is a symbol of Mother Earth.  We began to play with the idea of the labyrinth being in the shape of a turtle.  We wanted the labyrinth to last, and be relatively easy to maintain.  Near the school is Vulcan Materials.  You can see their “mountain” from the school yard.  Linda began both fundraising and increasing enthusiasm for a labyrinth at school and building a relationship with Vulcan—learning how their corporate giving program works—in the hope of a donation of materials for the labyrinth.  I continued to sketch and design.  We were both planning and dreaming.  When I visited the school, Linda showed me around the playground, and to a few sites that she thought would be good locations for the labyrinth. It was easy to see where it should be.  Near the corner of the large playground, away from most of the activity, was a spot from which you could see a small pond across the bus road in one direction, a couple of huge trees in another direction, the archway into the Montessori wing’s garden in another direction, and in the distance in the fourth direction, Vulcan Materials’ mountain.  We had the idea to raise the labyrinth a little bit above the existing ground level, in order to see the pond better, and to give it a feeling of being elevated.  We definitely would need assistance from the neighboring business, and having the location of the labyrinth in our minds, and a general idea of what we wanted, gave us new energy to work to make it happen.

Several years later, Linda presented the plan with a materials list to the prospective benefactor, and we received the requested donation of rip rap and crusher run.  All we needed was a truck with a hydraulic lift to transport it.  To our good fortune, the grandfather of one of the students in Mrs. Brashier’s class had a dump truck and was willing to help us with our mission!  We compared schedules and found a week when I could be away from the IGS office and put it on the calendar. 

On Monday of our work week, it was misting and cool.  That didn’t matter; the students in Mrs. Brashier’s 2012-2013 upper elementary Montessori class were excited to be the ones to help build the labyrinth they had been hearing about for quite a while.  They brought work gloves and a few borrowed tools.  The class already had a huge number of shovels acquired from a previous gardening project.  Mr. Bagwell and his dump truck was scheduled to bring the rip rap.  Before beginning, the students had time to use many of my collection of finger labyrinths and learn some more about labyrinths.  They watched a short video of labyrinths through the ages and my Power Point presentation.  They learned how to identify the major types of labyrinths and how to draw the classical and celestial labyrinths from seeds.  A lesson in geometry was next, because the turtle’s shell was to be an ellipse, and the first step in building the labyrinth would be to mark the shell with flags.  We watched an animation from the internet on drawing ellipses and found the distance the foci needed to be from the center (about 11’) in order for our shell to be 35’ x 27’. The string attached to the foci needed to be 35’ long. So, after about five years of planning, we were ready to begin.

About half of the thirty 4th and 5th graders gathered their gloves and jackets and trekked outside into the brisk weather.  We measured our 35’ length, and centered it “by eye” in the chosen spot, and then marked the center and both ends.  Next we measured 27’ across the center, to see where the edge of the shell would be.  We tweaked our center and length stakes, then marked the width points with flags.  Then we found the foci—the points our ellipse will focus on, and measured a piece of twine about 36’ and tied it to the foci stakes, leaving about 35’ of loose string.  This string is what we pulled taught, to find the ellipse, placing flags about every foot or so, all the way around, lifting the string over the stakes, and placing more flags on the other side, all around until we had the ellipse completely flagged.  The students and Mrs. Brashier checked a few places reflagging as needed, and we all were amazed at how big the ellipse looked, and how quickly it came together.  Working in teams, the students began installing 18” rolls of weed barrier fabric by removing a flag, rolling the fabric, and reinserting the flag, tucking up the excess to make the fabric curve as needed.  Other teams began bringing the rip rap from the pile that Mr. Bagwell had dumped near our worksite earlier in the morning.  Those students placed the rocks on the paper, helping to hold it in place.  All morning we worked, flagging out the head and legs of the turtle, and adding a small tail.  Placing weed barrier, rip rap, and then adding more and more until we had a nice short wall of rip rap outlining the shape, then filling in the head and appendages with more fabric and rip rap.  By the end of the day, we were tired, dirty, and excited about filling up the shell with crusher run the next day.

The plan for the shell was to raise the whole area from about 6”-8” at the edge, up to about 1 ½’ – 2’ at the center. Mr. Bagwell and his dump truck brought us many small loads throughout the next three days—about 40 tons in all, and also another load of rip rap for us to use to make the wall stronger and build up the head.  We spread by shovels, buckets, rakes and picks.  The children learned not to step on the piles because it made it harder to shovel later. We frequently stopped shoveling  to step outside the shell to  clean up the little rocks from the yard either tucking them into the wall making it more stable or make use of the rare opportunity to toss rocks safely to any low lying area in the shell, while no one was in it.

The students weren’t only working on the labyrinth, they continued with some of their usual work, and in-school responsibilities, but also some special labyrinth art activities I had planned for them.  We placed much of their artwork and many of my finger labyrinths and art samples on tables and cork strips in the hall.  The other classes were invited to come try the finger labyrinths and view our work.  We also learned and practice the Turtle song all week, and some of the children visited the primary and lower elementary classes to teach and practice the Turtle Song in preparation for Friday’s community meeting.  We also talked about dreams.  Some of their artwork reflected dreams they have for themselves and for the world.  They were invited to create a symbol of a dream, and bury or tuck it into the labyrinth.  Mrs. Brashier and I buried small turles wrapped in a felt labyrinth and made wishes for peace, longevity, and shelter for all the people who walk the labyrinth.

 Midweek the weather got worse, we broke one of the few rakes, and we kept thinking we still need more crusher run to have the shell have the shape we envisioned.  The children took turns in and out of the classroom to get warm, and then head back out for the action.  One morning I stopped for a few tools at the hardware store and picked up all the rain ponchos they had at the local discount store.  A few parents stopped by to see the work in progress or help for a time.  One mom stayed to help for a while, but was then sent on a hot chocolate mission.  We all greatly needed and deserved the warm treat.  On Thursday, we had the crusher run mostly in place.  We had an impromptu ceremony “retiring the shovels” when we were ready for the final rakings.  Mrs. Brashier handed each child a shovel or pick to march back to the classroom’s garden while I beat on my drum that has a turtle painted on it.  It was truly a celebration of the end of that stage of the work. 

 Two pallets of river stone had been delivered previously by Tommy Leopard (thanks for the great deal and free delivery!) and the one with large rocks had been unloaded the day before by a work team of students.  I am so impressed with the students’ willingness to work and get a job done!    The big rocks were ready to be placed for the labyrinth on the top of the shell and two were picked out and carefully placed for the eyes for our Turtle.  We had wanted to have the labyrinth finished for Friday’s community meeting of all the Montessori classrooms and have a special ceremony to walk the labyrinth together.  Instead we were “only” able to get the base material of 40 tons of crusher run and a load and a half of rip rap ready—under adverse conditions—and all that with the main source of energy—kid power!

 So at the meeting, showed photos of our progress, sang the Turtle Song, and the invited the gathered folks to see the labyrinth art and then gather at the labyrinth to sing the Turtle Song.  The finishing of the labyrinth would happen after the meeting.  Friday’s great blessing, a clear blue sky welcomed us outside to our last day of work.  Before we began placing the river stones, we made a few final rounds raking, and then enjoyed a stomping dance.  A spiral dance on the turtle shell was fun, and we wanted to enjoy the beautifully prepared shell before building the labyrinth.  Then it was time for more measuring and setting of markers for the labyrinth’s circuits, and more rock placement, digging in the larger stones for stability and beauty of the standing rocks.  We labored all day, placing the stones, checking the drawing, and placing more stones.  The second pallet of smaller stones was unloaded and that pallet joined the first pallet beside the school’s dumpster.  We worked hard keeping our work place clean and safe, not just with the trash, but with our tools and our actions.  Other than a few fingers pinched between rocks, I am proud to say we had no work injuries all week. 

 I wasn’t able to be with them the following week, when the plan was to introduce the labyrinth to the other classes in the school.  I wish I had been able to… I know there was a sense of accomplishment and joy in sharing this gift to their school community.  The children in Mrs. Brashier’s class have proven to themselves, and others, what working hard can accomplish.  These children have changed their school environment with this gift of labor and love.  In fact, I’d like to say they have changed the world.  The Turtle Dreams Labyrinth will be here for a long time, perhaps forever, as a symbol of Peace, Abundance, Shelter, Home, Longevity, Protection, Persistence, and “kid power.”  I hope it will become a place to gather, celebrate special occasions, work out problems, reflect quietly, enjoy solitude, seek solutions, mourn with acceptance, share truthfully, and live joyously.  

Zagreb, Croatia Is Home of Beth Langley’s Newest Labyrinth

May 2012

After several years of waiting for plans to come together, M.E. (Beth) Langley has designed and installed a labyrinth at the Little Heart Montessori School in Zagreb, Croatia.  The school is owned by Sandra Pokos, who also operates the only Montessori teacher education program recognized by the Ministry of Education in Croatia and is a long time friend of Langley. The two had planned for several years for Langley to visit Zagreb, conduct a workshop for teachers about the uses of labyrinths in schools, build a labyrinth at the school, and together visit “the City of Celestial Labyrinths” about two hours from Zagreb.  When Pokos planned the second Montessori congress to be held in Croatia along with her school’s fifteenth anniversary celebration, the timing was irresistible.  

Planning began in earnest for the labyrinth that would be built at the school.  Use of the Internet made the sharing of photos of the proposed site, a drawing detailing the dimensions of the space, and rough sketches of the labyrinth and material options easy.  Sandra wanted the design to be based on Adrian Kezele’s Labyrinth of Wisdom, and Beth integrated the hearts--symbols not only of the school, but also particularly of Zagreb, known for its warm heart.  Trusting the dimensions to be close, and the site to be situated harmonious to her plan, Beth drew out the labyrinth design in her driveway with sidewalk chalk to take additional measurements and to test the pattern’s twists and turns for balance.

The trip to Croatia was Langley’s first visit to Europe.  Dr. Sheryl Sweet Miller, another long time friend and mentor to both Beth and Sandra, also traveled to Zagreb for the Montessori Congress.  Sweet Miller had been traveling to Croatia for two decades, and conducted the first Montessori teacher training program there, which Sandra had interpreted and completed.  Twenty years later, Sweet Miller was delighted to help celebrate the school’s anniversary and speak at the congress.

After arriving in Zagreb, the pair was met at the airport by Franz, one of Sandra’s first students, who is now studying to be a civil engineer.  After a quick stop at their hostess’ home, Franz assisted  Beth in material selection for the labyrinth, expertly assessing the best choice from the available sources, a pallet of stone from Italy.  

The next day while Sandra busily handled last minute duties related to the congress, Beth laid out the plan for the labyrinth using metal pins, wooden skewers, and surveyor’s tape and began digging out the path.  She had assistance from Marko Planincic, the school’s handyman and gardener.  Marko helped dig and separate the grass from the soil, carried and split stone, and helped place and level the stones in place.  This in between other duties readying for the congress and anniversary celebration, including repainting the garden and parking lot walls!  Marko also raised the level of the ground surrounding a meter that was near the labyrinth, making the area around the labyrinth safer and prettier.  Beth took a little time off from labyrinth building to attend the congress opening Friday morning, and was back at the labyrinth that afternoon, knowing there was only a day and a half left to have the labyrinth ready for the workshop, anniversary celebration, and the official opening of the labyrinth.  At the end of the day Saturday, Langley and Planincic were tired and pleased with the results of their efforts.  

Sunday’s events were well attended, as was the whole congress, and the attendees of Beth’s workshop enjoyed learning about labyrinths.  Highlights were learning to draw labyrinths and seeing various ways to use labyrinths.  Participants were invited to add a stone to the path or to sweep in more dirt to help the labyrinth become solid and stable.  For the opening of the labyrinth, a crystal from South Carolina was passed around the circle of people surrounding the labyrinth.  People were invited to add their thoughts to the sentence, “Bless this labyrinth and all those who walk it with ____.”  After naming attributes and blessings such as love, light, joy, peace, God’s love, music, and many other wonderful intentions, the crystal was placed near the center of the labyrinth and people were invited to walk the labyrinth or watch those who wanted to walk.  It was a lovely closing of the congress, and beautiful opening of the labyrinth.

On Monday and Tuesday Beth visited the classrooms at the school, and introduced the children to labyrinths, letting them try finger labyrinths, and told them the story of the designing of their labyrinth.  She then led the children to their labyrinth and instructed them in how to walk the labyrinth.  The children as they interacted with one another on the labyrinth expressed joy, wonder, patience, excitement, calmness, peace, and were delighted with the addition to their outdoor environment.  

A few well deserved days of sightseeing took the visitors and their hostesses to visit the nine Celestial labyrinths, the ancient city of Split, old castles, new friends, and a short stay on the Adriatic coast.  Everywhere they went, hospitality was evident, food was wonderful and plentiful, and the land and cityscapes were as beautiful as one could imagine.

See photos.

Labyrinth Designed and Constructed in Mexico

January 2009 M.E. Langley accepted an invitation to attend the Associacion  Montessori de Puebla Congress and visit the Colegio Montessori Quetzalli, an authentic Montessori school for children from one year old through high school.  A workshop for the staff of the school and the adult students of Patricia Pantoja's MEPI accredited Montessori teacher preparation programs was held at the school.  Ms. Langley enlisted the help of students, staff, administration, and volunteers to construct a labyrinth on the campus.  Puebla is known as the City of Angels, and the symbol was included in the design of the labyrinth.  Christopher Tron chalked the labyrinth's angel in preparation for the painting the labyrinth and will add finishing details to it.  As always, young students were captivated by the appearance of the labyrinth and many of them watched or participated in the painting of the seven circuit classical labyrinth.  Ms. Langley was delighted to report of her extraordinary experiences that included a visit to the pyramid in Cholula, including a trek through the tunnels that are open to visitors.  In the countryside nearby is a newly constructed rock labyrinth, also a classical seven circuit, that was a special destination "treat" for the visitor from the Estados Unidos de America.  The southern hospitality given her made her first foray into the international labyrinth scene a joyful success.

South Carolina DSS Credit Hours Available

November 2008 Schools, Preschools or Daycares needing training hours recognized by South Carolina Child Care Training System can now receive 3 hours credit for her half-day workshop on Labyrinths and Teamwork.  The workshop provides 1.5 hour credit for curriculum and 1.5 hour credit for professional development.   A six hour workshop is also available that will provide a more in-depth study of labyrinths, additional classroom activities and preparation, as well as offer more professional development activities for the participants. 

Labyrinth Built at Clay-Platte Montessori School

October 2008 Clay-Platte Children's House Montessori School, (CPCH) Kansas City, Missouri, is pleased to announce that a labyrinth was recently constructed on their campus.  The labyrinth is a classical seven circuit labyrinth in the Native American form often referred to as "Man in the Maze."  Regardless of that reference, today labyrinth enthusiasts are quick to point out that mazes and labyrinths are quite different.  Mazes are puzzles to solve, having choices along the way many of them leading to dead ends or blind alleys, leaving the walker perplexed as to which way to go.  Labyrinths have a single path leading to a central goal that is in the heart of the labyrinth.  The unicursal path has many twists and turns, but always leads to the goal, allowing the walker to move along the path without worrying about getting lost or finding the way.
The labyrinth was designed by M.E. (Beth) Langley and constructed with students, staff of CPCH and volunteers over the course of several days.  CPCH was the site of the Montessori Educational Programs International (MEPI) Hands for Peace Conference this fall, and labyrinth construction began several days ahead of that event.  Conference participants also contributed to the construction of the 32 ft. rock and cedar mulch creation.
CPCH is 42 years old and is an authentic Montessori school.  Their campus is situated on land that has significant pre-historical roots.  Students of CPCH have worked with a local archeologist and have determined  that the land was inhabited by the Hopewell Indians 4,000 years ago.  The campus is registered with the Archeology Society as the 10 Acre Wood Site. The labyrinth was given the official name 10 Acre Wood Labyrinth, although it is referred to informally and simply as the Labyrinth at Clay-Platte Montessori School.
Interestingly, the labyrinth falls on what has been designated the Art Line.  The Art Line essentially bisects the United States at the 39.1 parallel running from California to New Jersey.  The Great Serpent Mound in Ohio is a great earthwork that was constructed by the Hopewell Culture about 1000 years ago also is one the Art Line.  More recent earth art and labyrinths created by Alex Champion, Toby Evans and others are also on the Art Line. 

(c) 2015
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All photos and text copyright M.E. Langley unless otherwise noted.