Growing Tomorrow’s World Labyrinth

Centennial Elementary School, Plano, IL

As the centerpiece of the central courtyard at Centennial Elementary School, this magnificent classical labyrinth is based on a drawing entitled “The Healing Tree,” by Sue Ann Foster. Working in collaboration with Centennial’s staff, Marty modified the drawing to accommodate the site and the needs of the school community.

The labyrinth features a number of innovative components. The flagstone and granite entryway forms the trunk of the Healing Tree. The path boundaries are outlined with hand-painted paving stones designed by Centennial students. The center is crafted of hand-sculpted blue and green pavers in the image of the Earth. When not in use, the labyrinth becomes a decorative background and conversation piece for ceremonies and other events that take place in this multipurpose space.

Our family had a wonderful experience creating the Growing Tomorrow’s World Labyrinth with the staff, students, and parents at Centennial Elementary School, where Marty and our daughters, Brittany and Chloe, attended school. We began by approaching third-grade teacher and labyrinth enthusiast Lowrie Cork, who recommended the perfect site: a courtyard that was slated to become a butterfly garden. We scheduled a meeting with the principal and teachers to present the concept of the Healing Tree Labyrinth. They liked the idea of a labyrinth as the focal piece for their butterfly garden, and so the seed concept began to sprout.

We then scheduled a few labyrinth events, beginning with classroom visits to talk about the history of the labyrinth. We also spoke of the many spirals in nature and showed the students how to draw 3, 5, and 7-path Classical labyrinths. We then explained our idea of working together to create a permanent labyrinth at the school. Students and teachers alike were excited about the possibility of being a part of history-in-the-making, and they soon took ownership of the project.

The next step involved inviting our friends Jeff and Kimberly Saward, labyrinth historians and researchers, to give a slide show presentation on the history of labyrinths. While they showed slides and told stories to half the students, we took the rest outside to paint two labyrinths on the school lawn. As the children walked the labyrinths, we asked them to think about what they would do to “make the world a better place.” Afterwards, they wrote down their thoughts on a huge piece of paper posted in the main hallway of the school.

The next step was to invite the staff and students to do expressive art by painting the concrete paving stones that would be used to construct the path boundaries of the labyrinth. We asked that the pavers portray images of nature or animals that are native to the area. The part we enjoyed most during this project was seeing the staff and students laughing, smiling, and having fun together at school. We saw firsthand how expressive art is a powerful form of therapy, and how it can be used with children and adults alike.

We could see that as the bricks were being painted, souls were being nurtured. It didn’t matter how perfect the art turned out because each and every brick was beautiful. We were really touched by the way each brush stroke soothed the spirit as everyone created a work of art to be used in what may some day be historically significant.

We then set a date for volunteers to come and haul loads of dirt and gravel by wheelbarrows to and from the courtyard area. It was a very long and sweaty day, but as we worked together we all knew that we were engaged in a very special task. When the base was ready, we asked each student to place his or her own brick onto the line of our spiraling shape to create the labyrinth.

Marty then hand sculpted puzzle pieces out of blue and green paving stones to create the Earth that lies in the center of the labyrinth. The precision-carved design features North and South America, Europe, and Africa. The United States includes an intricate carving of the Great Lakes, a local landmark that helps the students to locate themselves and their community in relation to the world.

Crushed granite was then spread between the path boundaries and compacted to create the walking path. Marty and his crew used flagstone and granite to create the sturdy-looking trunk of the tree. Large boulders were interwoven near the tree’s roots to create a feeling of groundedness. The labyrinth was then complete. The butterfly garden was planted around the labyrinth by some of the fifth grade students who were moving on to middle school the next year.

On August 30, 2001, the school hosted an open house. The labyrinth was available for families to walk and experience the artwork created by their children. It was so wonderful to see the children dragging their parents by the hand, showing them what this “labyrinth stuff” was all about.

We wanted to put our time and energy into this project because we feel so blessed to be on this labyrinth-creating journey. We feel truly honored to be a part of something that is much bigger than ourselves, and the opportunity to give back to the greater good felt right to us. But most of all, we did this because we believe that children are the future and that they are always a good investment.

The list of ways for using the labyrinth as a learning tool in the school setting is limited only by the imagination. The labyrinth naturally lends itself to mathematical analysis, for example, giving students fascinating circular and spiral forms to measure in a variety of ways. The labyrinth can also be used to teach art, history, music, and environmental education. And of course students are much more eager to write in English class when they are encouraged to share the experience of creating their own labyrinth!

We are honored to have had the opportunity to collaborate with Centennial’s staff, students, and parents on this highly acclaimed community project. We hope that you have enjoyed the story of its creation.