A hot air balloon, an eagle in the sky. Anne Krisman on ways to explore the concept of freedom among children with special needs
What does freedom mean and what does it feel like to be liberated? This is something I have been looking at with my Year 9 pupils, who have difficulties with speech, communication and understanding.
We began by looking at images that conveyed freedom, including a desert island, an eagle in the sky, a mountain and a hot air balloon. One of them depicted a happy boy in an electric wheelchair. The pupils chose their favourite picture. Although the desert island and sunset appealed because of their peacefulness, the pictures of the child with special needs captured the class's attention. We talked about where he would go if it was his first day of freedom without a carer to push him.
We then explored some pictures of monuments in Africa to the slave trade. These statues are powerful, often showing two figures, one in pain, and one liberated. Their intense emotions communicated immediately. Pupils posed as the statues in the pictures, with some working with a partner to show the relationship between someone suffering, and another person helping.
We also responded to the public sculpture "Freedom" by Zenos Frudakis, in Philadelphia, US. This depicts one person in several poses: embedded in a wall, then partially breaking out. The person is finally liberated, balanced on one foot with palms uplifted to the sky. Pupils tried some movements that reflected the sculpture: standing straight with palms flat, like a wall, leaning forward to try to escape, stepping forward and then showing the joy of liberation with arms outstretched.
Finally we had a discussion about why the person in the sculpture was trapped and why they wanted to be free. One thought the person had been kidnapped. One said they were in a war. Another said they might have cancer. One felt they had been bullied. The young people showed how they could throw off their own constraints, once given a powerful stimulus that connected with their lives.
Anne Krisman is head of RE at Little Heath Foundation School, a special school in Romford, Essex.