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Enlist the power of the Blob

magazine article | Published in TES Newspaper on 20 January, 2006 | By: Jerome Monahan

The Big Book of Blobs By Pip Wilson and Ian Long £12 (including p&p); the A3 posters are £19 (including p&p) Email: pip@pipwilson.com

Here are two new words that could well enter the lexicon in 2006.

The verb "to blob"and its associated noun "blobster" meaning a convinced user of Blobs in training and education work with adults and young people.

The roots of both are the endlessly adaptable "Blob" people (born of a collaboration between artist Ian Long and group worker and trainer Pip Wilson) and now gathered into a collection of over 50 fresh illustrations designed to promote communication and emotional literacy.

The book begins with the original "BlobTree" that has been doing the rounds of schools and counselling settings for many years and features a population of jelly baby-like figures climbing, hanging and falling from trunk and branches and demonstrating behaviour ranging from mutual support to out-and-out opposition or complete isolation. "This picture is over 25 years old," says Pip Wilson. "It emerged from my youth work in East London with young people unwilling or unable to read and has circulated since among teachers and other professionals often in the shape of photocopies of photocopies. Now we have greatly extended the range of Blob situations and scenarios - though all offer the same multiplicity of interpretation that made the original so useful a tool."

The new illustrations are gathered into four themed sections: places, such as playground and disco settings; issues, including bullying; families and death; occasions, including a Blob Christmas; and, finally, a set of personal development scenarios. "Most of the situations are open to symbolic interpretation," suggests Ian Long. "They can be used to help children and young people make the leap to some highly sophisticated thinking. They have proved an ideal prompt, helping people to open up about themselves in ways that more direct cross-examining often fails to do."

"The great thing about Blob pictures is the way they provide an entirely non-threatening way into young people's thinking," suggests Norwich-based sex and relationship educational development worker Molly Potter. "I have used them in a variety of circumstances and they are great for drawing out views without the need for any reading whatsoever. They have proved extremely useful helping both secondary and primary pupils. In addition, they have worked as a great ice-breaker for the PSHE sessions I lead with primary teachers." Included in The Big Book of Blobs is guidance about the importance of subtle questioning as the key to the successful use of the images. "The quality of the questions that young people are asked makes all the difference," says Ian Long.

"In co-ordination with the images, effective questions can move young people on from everyday communication to discussing their beliefs and feelings, and eventually reaching the kind of openness from which real progress can flow." Ian Long cites a powerful example involving a distraught Year 4 child he witnessed being able to use a Blobbing session to identify the figure in one image he most felt like at the time. "It was the necessary launch pad he needed to express his current emotions," says Ian. "He took the risk of opening himself up and it produced the extraordinary result of another pupil pointing to a friendly Blob embracing another to articulate how he would like to help his classmate."

For Jill Aitkin, assistant head at Canons High School in Harrow, the moment when Blobs proved their worth was in her work with a young boy whose mother was seriously ill. "His worry was being manifested in aggression," she recalls. "Using the Blob Tree picture with him gave him the chance to point to the figure in mid-air having fallen off a branch - this was how he felt and he immediately burst into tears. It enabled him to express his underlying sadness and anxiety." She adds: "Blobs are deceptively simple figures, recognisably human and manifesting an extraordinary range of emotions and relationships. They are a very direct and yet unobtrusive way to help adolescents explore their feelings."

Sarah Davidson of Slough Borough Council's Educational Psychology Service adds: "The Blob Playground and Bullying pages have proved particularly helpful. But intrinsic to all Blobs is their lack of specific identity.

They are sexless, ageless and without racial characteristics. Even the youngest children can come to own the images, finding in them Blobs that reflect their past and present circumstances and how they would like to be in the future."

Ian Long is working on a second book of Blobs and plans a third focused on anger management and depression. Four A3 Blob Tree posters are already available.


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