Silent. Solo. Special. Still. Same. Safe.
Carving out time for a sit spot is an essential component to developing nature connection. It is like the main course, the pièce de résistance. Admittedly however, when I first heard about the sit spot, Mme Skeptique, the critical voice somewhere lodged between my right ear and the crown of my head, voiced the following concerns: How do you get kids to sit still in the outdoors? And why would you bother? It is true that giving children space to run around and embrace their Lord of the Flies personas is important, however guiding them to find a special, private spot where they are still is also key to their wildness development. My children love their private world among the trees. It is their own. It is an intimate space where their curiosity and sense of wonder are ignited. It is a safe place where the lessons of nature seep in and nature’s secrets are revealed. If we think of the forest as wallpaper, most of us can admire its beauty and take quick notice of the various colors, bold lines and pungent seasonal smells such as the skunk cabbage currently in bloom. We may move in and out of the wallpaper noting the delicate red huckleberry flowers, the unfurling vanilla leaf or trillium at our feet. But how often do we really stop long enough to make our obtrusive presence dissipate? How often do we sit and wait for the natural environment to embrace us as part of the wallpaper, long enough for it to reveal its secrets? I have heard from a few different sources that it takes a minimum of 20 minutes for the forest to return to its natural rhythm. To become part of the wallpaper is to blend into the natural environment and hear its true song. Rather than be the invasive and loud visitor, in prolonged stillness, you become the quiet, fascinated observer.
But how do we facilitate this process? It is one thing for an adult to find a spot and sit still but for the uninitiated child this may be challenging. I guarantee however, that the initial energy you put into facilitating this process is worth every drop of sweat and frustration. The key is to meet your child where they are at. What this means is to set them up for success. Each child is different so this may need to start with a 5-minute sit spot and a gradual increase in length over time. If your child has the wiggles, I suggest playing a game beforehand. It could be a game of Sleeping Fawn or the Wildlife is Watching to get them in the mood for stillness. (At the end of the blog further details are provided regarding referenced games and resources.) If they are scared to be alone, sit with them at first and distance yourself further and further over time. It is also valuable to provide them with a challenge, something to occupy them while sitting. The challenge could be to activate a specific sense. For example, ask them to write/draw all the different sounds they hear or to draw their spot from the perspective of a bird. Ultimately, there are many ways to introduce and engage your child when it comes to the sit spot experience. It will soon become part of your forest time routine, one that is cherished by the whole family. We all look forward to it. I set my timer, sit down and chill. Sometimes, I pull out my journal, read poetry by Mary Oliver or draw. There are times however when I do absolutely nothing and it is wonderful. And when the time is over, I let the kids know its time to gather by giving my special call of a crowl…a unique crow-meets-owl call. Once we reconvene, we share our sit spot story. It is important to leave space for the sharing of experiences. (The intricacies of story sharing will be the focus of my next blog entry.) The act of sharing one’s story brings joy and learning to all and further validates the sit spot experience.
Referenced Games & More
These games may need to be adapted according to the number of players.
Sleeping Fawn Set-up. This can be played in a covered or open area, as long as each participant can find a place of their own big enough to lie very still on the ground with their faces visible. Everyone is a Fawn sleeping while their mother is away. The instructor is the Coyote or Wolf stalking for prey. Action. This game is based on the fact Deer Fawns will stay still and go unnoticed by predators that walk by, unless the Fawns move. They must remain completely still while the Predator wanders nearby sniffling around. Funny Face. You, as the Coyote, behave in true Coyote fashion, doing foolish, bothersome, and unexpected things, making faces, yelping, scratching, and fooling around in efforts to provoke movement or laughter, but may never touch the Fawn or use words. Should a Fawn move, they go sit quietly in a designated spot. Debrief/ Story of the Day.
The Wildlife is Watching Create the Playing Field. Use a section of trail or path with very good hiding opportunities. Mark out a beginning and ending point along the trail. Between these two points, make sure your group has ample room to hide. Create roles. Divide the group into two. The hiders (the “wildlife”) will have about five minutes to camouflage and hide themselves within five (your choice) feet of the trail's edge. The seekers must remove themselves from the immediate areas until the hiders feel completely hidden. You can use this time to review Fox Walk and Owl Eyes. The Game. To begin, the seekers will Fox-Walk down the trail, one at a time, a reasonable distance apart, and count to themselves how many of the hiders they've spotted. The seekers can stop in the middle of the trail at any time but they can only move forward. They may not touch the plants or point out any hiders they have spotted. When they get to the end of the hiding zone, they cay whisper into the ear of the awaiting instructor how many they spotted. Once everyone has finished the walk, let the hiders show of their hiding spot. Debrief. Switch roles and play again.
Eagle Eye Directions for the Eagle This is a sedentary version of hide-and-seek. Play it in an area with some decent cover for hiding. Check and discuss hazards. One person is the Eagle and they stand in their “nest”, about the range of their pivot-step. It is wise to have a mentor stay with the Eagle during the game as a facilitator. The Eagle closes their eyes and counts to 60 while everyone hides in a broad circle around the Nest. Don't forget to define the boundaries. Directions for Hiders. All hiders or “voles/mice/rabbits” must hide in such a way that they can see the Eagle with at least one eye at all times. This means no hiding completely behind trees, etc. They must stay within boundaries. The goal of this game moves the hider as close to the Eagle as possible and without being seen. Eyes Open. The Eagle opens their eyes, looks, and listens all around for everyone but cannot leave the nest. When the Eagle sees something they must provide a detailed description and exact location. The facilitator can confirm whether they are accurate. Should someone be caught, they come to the Eagle Nest and sit down, remaining silent. Sustain Pace. After a while, when the Eagle can no longer locate anyone, the facilitator will raise a number of fingers. The hiders need to ensure that they can see the number and they can still be caught if they need to move to see it. Now, the Eagle will close their eyes and the hiders will stand up where they are hiding and silently show the number on their hands. If they cannot, they will join the Eagle's Nest. Now the Eagle will keep their eyes closed and count to 30 while everyone hides again, moving at least 5 steps closer to the Eagle this time. The game continues until the last person is caught.
Fire Keeper Create a large circle using bandannas, shoes, pylons, etc. Depending on the terrain you can invite the group to take off their shoes. The goal is for someone standing on the outside of the circle to stalk into the middle and steal they keys from under the nose of the Fire Keeper without every being heard and pointed at by the Fire Keeper. Select a Fire Keeper who sits blindfolded in the middle of the circle. Place the fire, which is represented by something noisy when handled, about a foot out in front of the Fire Keeper. Catch Sneakers. If the Fire Keeper hears someone sneaking in, they will point in the direction of that sound. If accurate, the facilitator will ask the person to return to the edge of the circle. If inaccurate, tell them so. It is best to limit the number of “inaccurate” points to 6 or 7, so that they will be forced to listen and to not just point everywhere. Also, ask the Fire Keeper to make a clear point that goes out quickly like an arrow, not waving in all directions. Manage the crowd. Each sneaker on the edge of the circle waits until the facilitator offers them a chance to sneak in. Allow only 2 or 3 sneakers at a time.
I just recently picked up this Mary Oliver poetry anthology. Much of her work is inspired by her experiences in nature. I absolutely love it.