30 September 2021

Reflections on Minefield (Blog by Steve Lewis)

After last month’s blog on the value of the Minefield activity, I thought the first week with my new Year 1 class would be the ideal time to use it to introduce some essential concepts to the children as well as building resilience and develop our collaborative learning community.

The children were intrigued as I taped out the 7x6 grid on the classroom floor. Especially when I encouraged them to walk around it as they came in after morning play. There were some quizzical looks from the five and six-year-olds sitting on the carpet in front of me as I explained the activity. But once we began they quickly understood and the masking taped carpet soon morphed into a place of daring and trepidation.

It’s important to note that my photographer was a five-year-old, hence the blurry pictures and funky camera angles.

When the children first started they were very quiet. There was little collaboration, but all children were engaged, watching their friends navigate the minefield. There were a few jumps with the first couple of bangs and some children did look quite disappointed as they returned to their side of the grid. But we had spoken beforehand about how we can encourage and support each other. So I was pleased to see the occasional pat on the arm or consoling hug.

As more children managed to get further into the grid each side became more animated. They could remember the safe path and shared it together. First, by pointing and gesturing enthusiastically, then by murmuring furiously if their guidance wasn’t followed. I had warned them that this was a silent activity but didn’t push the rule too harshly with a year 1 class.

Some children strode confidently across. Invariably, they didn’t last long. Others were more wary, perhaps even nervous. This was apparent in their posture and how hesitantly they placed each foot. It was interesting how the children initially looked to the adults for guidance and support. And it was difficult to stop ourselves from giving anything more than an encouraging smile. So often in activities, we scaffold, hint or even guide a child through a challenging situation. Here, we simply couldn’t. It is essential for children to struggle at points in their learning journey, even momentarily. To become comfortable with being uncomfortable. To see it as part of the process.

It was lovely to see children invested in the success of others. They succeeded and failed together, which is quite rare at such a young age. Especially in a large group outside of their immediate friends. They used logic, memory and spatial awareness to navigate the minefield. Once they reached the halfway point it was interesting to see when the children on the opposite side realised that they could help. It did take a couple of failed attempts as well as gentle reminders from us. The child traversing the minefield went from turning to look behind for instruction and support to looking straight ahead, at their friends on the opposite side.

Many children commented that it would be impossible to do, that it was too hard. But as a group, they didn’t give up. They persevered. If one child failed, another would try. In other tasks, children would often lose interest but here they continued. One of the best things about this activity was it became easier the longer it went on. Once the first child had crossed, they were able to help those behind as well as the children travelling in the other direction. It became evident which children excelled at this activity. They had well developed spatial awareness and could remember the route clearly, enabling them to help others. So as the children’s energy and concentration began to wane, the task became easier.

As more children made it across they were able to support others who were still trying. Usually, the least confident children allowed others to go before them. This meant that they had more support when it was their turn. The activity continued until everyone had made it across to the opposite side. The task could only end in success, which is not always the case in group activities.

Once the children completed the task there was a huge release of pent up energy. Some jumped up and down. Others hugged. One child ran round and round in circles. It was lovely to see. They had achieved something that some had thought impossible. They had worked together and supported each other. They had struggled against adversity, together.

During the debrief we discussed some of the photographs. What good teamwork looked and sounded like. How children felt at different points of the activity. We shared ideas for how we could and did help each other. To end the activity I shared that Minefield was an excellent metaphor for learning any new skill or for the school year as a whole.  We start with a lot of unknown territory in front of us. We can only take one step at a time. We have to take the step ourselves, no one else can do it for us but we will never be alone. There will always be others to help us. We will make a lot of mistakes. But these mistakes help us learn and move forward, as long as we pay attention and learn from them. One way or another we will always reach our destination, we just need to trust and help each other and keep going.

The children thoroughly enjoyed the activity, as did I. It taught me a lot more than I realised, especially how I underestimated my class. It is definitely an activity that I will revisit a couple of times this year. To reinforce the messages that we are all in this together. We will always make mistakes. We are all capable of much more than we realise.


by Steve Lewis


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