TLS Members e-Newsletter

Members eNewsletter
At least four times a year, TLS members are rewarded at their inboxes with a copy of the Labyrinth Society e-newsletter. It serves as a means of direct communication with the membership and provides an historical record of the Society.

Interview with Beth Langley, current TLS Nominating Chair; 3rd installment in the “Meet your Board” Series

Christiana Brinton (CB): Today I’m interviewing Beth Langley, a Veriditas certified labyrinth facilitator and Montessori teacher, administrator, workshop presenter and labyrinth designer and builder. Beth lives in the southeastern US and has built fourteen permanent labyrinths in both public and private schools, K-12, throughout North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. She even has one at a school in Croatia, and another in Mexico. Welcome Beth!

Mary Elizabeth Langley

Mary Elizabeth (Beth) Langley
Photo: M.E. Langley

Beth Langley (BL): Hi Christiana, it’s good to talk to you.

CB: Your Montessori work took a decided turn about 10 years ago when you found labyrinths and became intrigued with them. Since then you’ve given labyrinth presentations at regional, national, and international Montessori conferences and training events, and engaged art educators, teachers and students in your passion for this contemplative tool. Why do you think the labyrinth is such a fit for the Montessori culture and for schools in general?

Building Turtle Dream labyrinth

Building Turtle Dreams Labyrinth.
Photo: M.E. Langley

 

BL:  Well, I believe the labyrinth exemplifies many of the principles dear to the Montessori culture and these can be applied to all school environments at all levels. And especially with Montessori schools having Peace Education as specific curriculum and in their school culture, labyrinths naturally fit in very well. Environmental characteristics such as freedom of movement and activity, beauty and harmony, order, and the inclusion of Nature in the classroom are clearly represented in both indoor and outdoor labyrinth designs of all types. These principles and qualities can be enhanced by the choice of construction materials, involvement of the children, teachers, and administrators in the project, and prior classroom labyrinth instruction, history lessons and art projects designed to stimulate student minds and spark interest.  

CB:  Have you used this approach with your permanent school labyrinth installations?

BL: Oh yes. I’ve built traditional classical seven circuit labyrinths and a modern, freeform labyrinth, as well as a medieval eleven circuit Chartres-style labyrinth. I’ve constructed many different kinds of temporary labyrinths for indoor workshops and classes. I try to use materials that mean something to the school, its location, students, and culture. I always try to come a few times to the school before beginning the building process so that I can talk to the students and teachers, engage them in labyrinth art projects, and have them walk either finger labyrinths or a temporary one I teach the students to build onsite. This type of hands-on learning is intrinsic to the Montessori classrooms and I’ve found it to be instrumental in getting the enthusiastic support of the entire community in both private and public school systems.

Testing finger labyrinths. 
Photo: B. Langley

CB: Can you give our readers an example of one of your labyrinth installations and the process involved?

BL: Sure. The length of time for each has varied greatly. Sometimes it’s taken a few years to get to the final building stage and sometimes only a few months. I try and let it happen organically. I trust the labyrinth and know that when it’s ready to be built, I’ll get a call asking me to start.   

Turtle Dreams Labyrinth, Gray Court – Owings Elementary Montessori School, Laurens County, SC, is one of my favorites. It’s a modified five circuit classical labyrinth that I designed, with a large center. It’s in the shape of a turtle’s back and with the feet, head, neck and tail made out of crushed rock. I like to reference animal totem energy as much as I can; it helps kids to focus and kids love making these kinds of labyrinths. Turtle energy is about Mother Earth, wisdom, abundance, creative energy, and longevity: all helpful qualities to have within a school community. Linda Brashier, an upper Elementary teacher, was my partner at the school and the person who led the fundraising efforts and gathered support within the school community.

We wanted a labyrinth that would last and would be easy to maintain. A rock quarry near the school donated all the loose gravel and large rocks for the fill, and another local merchant gave us a good deal on two pallets of river stones for the labyrinth lines. Most of the work was done by fourth and fifth grade students during class hours.  It took five years to bring this idea to fruition and five days to build it.

Linda and I wanted the labyrinth to be slightly raised above ground level to take advantage of the view of a small pond and to give the feeling of being elevated. The students, Linda, and I started by laying weed cloth down on the spot we’d chosen, then hauling the dirt and rocks to the designated areas for the turtle’s appendages. I’m proud to say that no one was hurt moving these heavy rocks; the students did a great job! It took all week to spread the gravel and rocks so that the turtle shape was raised above ground level and so the center finished about 2’ above grade. On Friday we sectioned off the labyrinth circuits and finished mounding the rock lines.

CB: Wow, that was a major enterprise for those students! You mention in your detailed description of this installation that you supported the physical work with daily art projects in the school. Can you speak about that?

BL: Yes, not only did I continue to educate the students about labyrinths with a DVD video and a Powerpoint presentation I made, but also I gave the students my large collection of finger labyrinths to try, had them draw different labyrinth designs and make them using seeds. Linda and I taught the older students a Turtle Song that they then taught to the younger students for a community school meeting on the last day. We also talked about dreams, and had the older students create dream symbols that they tucked into the labyrinth rocks. Once the base part of the design was finished, Linda and I brought the participating students into the rock ellipse, where the actual labyrinth would be laid, and did a stomping spiral dance with them in celebration of the beautiful shell they’d created to hold the labyrinth. 

Turtle Dreams labyrinth building team

Turtle Dreams Labyrinth Building team.
Photo: B. Langley

 

CB: It seems that all the arts were utilized in this endeavor!

BL: Yes and imbued with much love, prayer, and power too. The following week these students introduced all the other grades to the labyrinth. These fourth and fifth graders saw what they could accomplish working together and it changed them. I like to think this labyrinth has changed the world too.

CB: What would you say to others who wish to introduce labyrinths to the primary and secondary schools in their areas?

BL: Get as many people on board as possible, come prepared to educate with lots of different labyrinth resources, don’t be surprised if it takes years, find the fun in the project, let the students be involved as much as possible, and make it unique to the school culture and environment.

CB: Thank you so much, Beth, for sharing a bit of your labyrinth story with me today! Check out Beth Langley’s website for more information and photos.