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Where wild things grow: Friluftsterapi as a preventative, health promoting, and sustainable method for children with neurodivergence in school, health care, family and leisure settings in Southern Norway

Esther Milh & Sarah Walgrave

Vleugel K, UPC Z.ORG KU Leuven

Sarah (28 y/o) and Esther (30 y/o) work as educators in Vleugel K, a residential psychiatric unit in Leuven, Belgium. Sarah works in a group for primary school children (6-12 years). She studied clinical psychology and has worked in Vleugel K for over three years. Esther works in a group for young teenagers (11-15 years), she graduated as a nurse in 2017 and has been working in Vleugel K since then. Both participated in the experience-oriented learning program, organized in Vleugel K, and have been experimenting enthusiastically with this form of therapy for a few years now.

foto gate - Esther Milh.jpg

Challenges and possibilities of adventure within different age groups

In Vleugel K, a residential psychiatric unit in Leuven, Belgium, we work as educators for primary school children (6-12 years) on the one hand and young teenagers (11-15 years) on the other. They stay with us for eight weeks and we work with them individually, in groups, and also with their family or guardians. We try to build in adventure as a therapy in subtle and more obvious ways: rock climbing, sleeping in tents, cooking on a fire,... In Vleugel K we call this experience-oriented learning.

In these two groups, we work with children or youngsters who may or may not have a psychiatric diagnosis or problems in their context which threatens to stall their further development. We work from the ARC-model (where attachment, regulation, and competence are the building blocks) which goes hand in hand with a trauma-sensitive approach (focusing on regulation and a feeling of safety).
Both groups benefit from experience-oriented learning. We experience that some aspects like self-reflection, taking responsibility and self-regulation are easier for young teenagers than for primary school children.

In this workshop, we would like to share our experiments with experience-oriented learning in both groups. In a couple of group activities, we will let you experience the possibilities and limitations we stumbled upon. How can we introduce more adventure in a children's-group without minimizing our primary task of regulation? And how can it be helpful to look beyond our own experiences and exchange ideas with different age groups? Afterwards, we would like to take time to listen to your feedback through active reviewing.
This workshop is an invitation to think critically about further dreams and more adventure on the horizon for young and old(er).

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