Feathers and focus
Last week I introduced the Lower Primary students to feather-balancing. This is an activity I learned in a circus skills workshop, and it is the most wonderful task. It involves balancing a peacock feather on the palm of your hand, or the tip of your finger. As you get more skilled you can try balancing it on other parts of the body, such as the nose or forehead.
The trick to keeping your feather upright and balanced is to keep your eyes on ‘the eye’ of the peacock feather (the brilliant, brightly coloured top-piece of the feather design). Maintaining this kind of steady eye contact in one direction is very challenging for a lot of the students at the Language School – maybe it is for primary school students everywhere. They tend to look to me or their teacher for direction, reassurance, or approval (perhaps because they quickly get in the habit of watching the teacher and other students for all cues about what to do).
Marko’s eyes lit up when I demonstrated the task. (He is the very bright, articulate boy I wrote about a few weeks ago, still coming to grips with reading). “I can’t do it,” he said almost immediately. But he had’t been looking at the eye of the feather. He tried again, with me calling constantly, “look up!” and “look at the Eye. The Eye!” He got the hang of it then, and the look of pleasure and pride on his face was very satisfying.
Later that day, children from the class raced up to me in the playground. “We liked the feathers!” “I thought that was pretty good!” and “We’ve been practising!” they told me excitedly.
The feather balancing is effective because it is so achievable. Everyone can do it. Some will start to challenge themselves, trying to balance it in different ways. It gets them focusing with their eyes, and with their bodies. Their teacher commented that it was the most focused she’d ever seen some of her students, in their whole time in the school!
I challenge them by getting them to keep their feet in one place, to encourage more focused physical awareness and control. When all of them are balancing their feathers at the same time, it transforms the room into a kind of mystical, other-worldly jungle of strange, bobbing floating creatures, suspended upwards in the air, gliding their way around the room.