Journey Sticks

Dr. Joe Gibson, who is the coordinator of the Deafblind International Outdoor Network, has worked for many years with adults who are deafblind. He is passionate about the benefits of outdoor activities for individuals with dual sensory impairment, including those with multiple disabilities, and has done extensive research on this topic.  Although his philosophy is not specifically rooted in the teachings of Dr. Lilli Nielsen, we have been struck by the way in which his approach is aligned with Active Learning.  He recently shared his research and experience at the Texas Deafblind Symposium and we wanted to share it here.

Framing an experience as a journey or story is a powerful way for individuals who are deafblind or who have multiple disabilities to participate in a literacy activity, through multiple steps.  Similar to an experience book, this is a way to engage learners in a literacy activity using an Active Learning approach. Students can take the lead and be active participants, without worrying if there is a right or wrong way of doing the activity.

A journey stick.
A journey stick.

In this example of a journey stick, bits of brightly colored yarn have been attached to the stick.  Items have been attached to the stick using this yarn, including twigs with leaves of different sizes, feathers, bark, acorns, and pinecones.

While this activity can be approached in a number of different ways, here are some steps to get started.

1.  Choose a stick.

Think about the length of the stick.  It should be long enough to hold a range of items and yet short enough to be able to carry on a walk or adventure. You may wish to remove twigs or other elements that would interfere with the items that are being collected.

Decide how you will carry the stick while walking.  You can just hold it or use a carabiner clip to attach it to your belt or pack.

2.  Collect items during the experience.

As you walk or move around, invite the learners to find things that interest them and attach them to the stick.

Strings or bags can be added to the stick to make this easier, so that items can be tied on with the string or yarn or placed inside baggies.

3.  Create a Scavenger Hunt or Treasure Hunt showing what to look for.

A variation would be to attach certain items to the stick that are clues or things to look for, like a scavenger hunt or treasure hunt.  To do this, adults would attach items that the learners should look for during the journey.  With a scavenger hunt, this would mean identifying the item on the stick (pinecone, feather, acorn, etc.) and looking for that same item in the environment.  This provides an opportunity to work on language and matching skills.

For a treasure hunt, the idea would be to find the first item on the stick, which would then lead participants to the next item.  For example, a key on the stick would be used to open a door or cabinet, where the next “clue” would be found.

The example below follows a treasure hunt model, where information was added prior to the beginning of the activity.  These sticks were designed for an event in which a number of children with visual impairments and significant learning difficulties, including deafblindness, came together for activities focusing on mobility. The first item represents a gold thread, where they found a key, then they moved to a “jungle”, where they picked and ate an orange, then to the top of the tree where they spoke to a parrot – and then on to the treasure. 

4.  Review the items with the group after the experience is over.

After the experience is over, invite the learners to review what they have collected. This can be as simple or complex as you wish, e.g. “What did we find today?” or “Who found a feather?” or “What did we find after the pinecone?”

5.  Place the journey stick where others can enjoy it and refer to it.

An important part of the experience is to share it with others.  In one school, they hung the stick on the wall afterwards and the teacher wrote up a description of the items on the stick.  This enabled visitors to ask the learners about it and for the experience to be shared and extended. Your child or student may want to hang them in a location where they can find them easily to share their experience with others.

For more ideas from Dr. Joe Gibson, see also

Learn more about journey sticks –

Collage of Journey Sticks