As a co-facilitator with Kaleidoscope Learning Circle, LLC and with my own private practice (Bridgewater Support Services, LLC) providing counseling services in Michigan through working with horses, I have had the privilege of working with children who are grieving for the past eight years.
This week, I was able to co-facilitate with my respected colleague, Stacie Johnson, LMSW, in collaboration with Kaleidoscope Learning Circle and Wellspring Lutheran Family Services at Camp Hope, for children with grief and loss issues, in beautiful Gladwin, Michigan.
We were able to help children understand their grief process and understand the grief of their peers through an activity called “life’s little obstacles.” The children were asked to create an obstacle course out of horse safe objects in the arena. We chose to partner with Kaleidoscope Learning Circle’s wonderful horses, “Charlie” and “Tigger.” The children were formed into groups determined by age and asked to get the horses through, over, or around the obstacle course. There were rules placed in this activity, as there are rules in life. These rules were that the children had to get the horses through this obstacle course without touching the horses, without talking, and without bribing the horses. That is, without a “consequence.” The children were able to choose their consequence. We discussed consequences in their lives and how sometimes consequences are good, bad, meant to be followed, or defined loosely enough to creatively work with that consequence or around it.
So, how can working on an obstacle course with a horse help a child who is grieving?
The children experienced the activity, working on their individual leadership skills and working as a team while interacting with the horses. The obstacles became metaphors for grief and how sometimes we get stuck in our grief, grief can be long and complicated, messy, the grief process can be a confusing process that is not linear in direction, and can change based on our situations from day to day. It can also look very different from person to person. The children were able to learn that sometimes, we need the help of our peers strengths, the help of professionals, and sometimes, it is ok to pause and just sit in our experience and wait for anxieties and worries to pass in order to move forward. Sometimes we set our goals too unrealistically with grief and sometimes just a step forward and acknowledging how far you have come, even if it is just a tiny step, can be pause for celebration and/or reflection.
The biggest take away for the children this week was that sometimes our situation is difficult and trying. We can not change our situation or the behaviors of those around us all of the time. The one thing we do have control of is how we choose to respond to that situation. It is ok to ask for help, it is ok to pause, it is ok to learn from others, and it is ok to celebrate little moments where we are able to move forward from our grief. The children completed the camp by making memory pillows, memory boxes, through poetry, and many other activities with their peers and camp counselors.
For more information on Camp Hope with Lutheran Family Services or grief programs for children with horses in michigan, please visit the following links: