Use of the Kawa Model in a School Setting

Updated: Nov 8, 2020

A retrospective reflection, sharing an intervention idea from an occupational therapy placement

I was given the chance to work with a UK mental health charity, supporting young people in a variety of role-emerging settings. Experiences included designing and facilitating group sessions on resilience, to a secondary school for deaf and hard-of-hearing children. I know from experience how stressful teenage life can be, but communication and engagement with the wider social environment is clearly an additional barrier for this community.

Occupational therapy, student, OT, mental health, role-emerging
Frankie and I, on our final OT placement

Although a sign-language facilitator was present, this provided an extra layer of challenge, as I'm sure you can imagine. Frankie and I were keen to rise to this and we loved our time at the school.

We brought the Five Ways to Wellbeing to pupils, via a variety of weekly classes. These were designed to be fun, engaging and mindful of the stressors faced - both by those with hearing impairments and by teenagers in general.

The Kawa Model

The Kawa Model of occupational therapy practice was used, to engage students in a creative activity. This model was developed in Japan by Dr. Michael Iwama. For information and the theory behind Kawa, visit the Kawa Model website.

We wanted each person to consider the personal challenges they currently face and the skills and supportive structures to help overcome them.

"Designed to be fun, engaging and mindful of the stressors faced - both by those with hearing impairments and by teenagers in general"

We designed a basic river template and laminated a copy for each child - to write on with wipeable ink. We felt that the visual element could be supportive to learning. Objects to place in the river and write on were then cut out and laminated. This formed a blank canvas for each pupil to map out their life flow. This would be a changing picture...


  • Rocks = circumstances that block life flow and cause dysfunction or disability

  • Driftwood = skills and resources that support and enhance daily living

  • Fish = personal qualities that help to overcome challenges faced

  • River bed = social, physical, cultural and institutional environment (a hinderance or help)

Each student could experiment by placing objects in different places within their river, to assess how one could support or hinder another aspect of their life. Check out my example river at the top of this post. Whilst the concepts could be considered abstract, most pupils engaged well with this interactive and visual learning tool!

Why not utilise the Kawa Model in your work with those you support? It's a tool that works across ages and cultures.

Jamie Grant

Occupational Therapist, UK

Director, The Occupational Therapy Hub

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