How Korean lotus flowers and dogs relate to social pedagogy at Lighthouse

This is a difficult blog to write – anyone who has studied social pedagogy appreciates that its many nuances and complexities is what makes social pedagogy such a rich discipline. Yet, there is a desire for a succinct and digestible definition to help people grasp what is meant by the term. Writing this blog at such an early stage in our journey and before we have opened our first home presents an interesting challenge as our approach to social pedagogy will gradually emerge as our practice develops.  For now, I will write briefly about our interpretation, hopes and intentions.

Someone once described social pedagogy as being like a Korean lotus flower. When I researched what this meant, I learned that lotus flowers grow in muddy and dirty waters and yet still have such beauty. They make no pretence of being better than they are, and are naturally beautiful. To me, this speaks to the authenticity that social pedagogy brings into our day to day practice and the fact that, despite our surroundings and life experiences, we are all bursting with potential and have something valuable to offer the world given the right opportunities.

We have found the Diamond Model by Eichstellar and Holtoff (2012) to be helpful when articulating how social pedagogy informs our thinking. The model shows that through positive experiences, we can try and achieve four key aims that help us to unlock potential. These aims are: the relationships we develop; harnessing opportunities for holistic learning; empowerment through participation; and promoting well-being and happiness. The role of our family at Lighthouse is to ensure that we are supporting the children in our care to shine through these experiences and aims.

To give you one example and to help bring the diamond model to life, I will explain how Charlie Pup, our Cockapoo, will have an important role in our home. Charlie is no stranger to Residential Care – he started the first 2 years of his life in a Residential Home in Surrey, and he is the unofficial mascot for Social Pedagogy Professional Association (SPPA).

Relationships – In terms of relationship building, Charlie can provide a natural starting point for conversations. Children will often tell us as adults that everything is OK, but after 5 minutes of talking to Charlie a different story emerges. He cannot respond, therefore cannot judge, and he offers a safe listening ear. We will be heading out on daily dog walks, which will increase our daily exercise and wellbeing. While we are out, people will stop to ask to pet him or ask how old he is, strengthening our relationships with our neighbours and local community.

Wellbeing and happiness – Children and adults instinctively want to stroke and pet Charlie which, when he is in a good mood (!), can act as a welcome interruption to our busy days. Studies support the idea that cortisol levels drop when interacting with animals, benefiting our wellbeing.

Holistic learning – Learning about Charlie, and caring for him, provides countless opportunities for learning in every day situations – whether this learning comes from understanding about consent (as we need to check with Charlie that he wants to play) or developing skills such as empathy, resilience and patience when trying to teach a very stubborn dog new tricks.

Empowerment – Charlie can also be the confidence booster some children need to participate in areas of their lives that they can otherwise find difficult. Joining a meeting full of adults who are there to discuss you and your life can seem overwhelming. Introducing a dog into the group can provide an easier environment for some and helps their voice to be heard.

Once we are open, I will look forward to reflecting back on what we have achieved and more adding examples and stories to build up a richer understanding of social pedagogy.

Hannah Severn, Registered Manager