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The Keys to Place: Sun, Dragons and Shadows

Start at the Rotten Zombies, head West towards the Headless Couple, cross the 15-piece bridge, and high five the Scaly Dragon & the Cedar Princess. These are some of the spots we've identified along the trail to our sit spots. The act of naming

places of note is not only fun but a means to increase awareness. It requires a conscious activation of the senses and offers an opportunity to orient oneself within a landscape and catch its many subtleties. As you do so, the landscape comes to life and observations arise. One begins to see the connections between the evolving seasons and emerging plant life, between aggressive bird behavior and nearby predators, and between human impact and tree diversity.

The process of creatively naming spots along our path is inspired by the tradition of Songlining. Before Google, Siri and the good old folding map, stories and songs were often used to recall important landmarks or routes. Creating a "Story" of your place (or places) creates meaning, and helps all ages, but especially younger ones who may struggle with traditional mapping, to embody their environment. Introduce the children to the different spots as you wander and then ask them to lead you back the same way. You can also simply walk the path and stop at different landmarks and come up with a name together or split into groups and create a scavenger hunt of sorts, where each group is responsible for creating relevant names for the other groups to find. Take a loved story, and integrate the characters, setting and important events into your journey. Whichever way you identify the variety of features along your path, this act of mapping serves to deepen your relationship and understanding of your natural environs.

The second stage to this mapping process is to identify the cardinal directions and to frequently orient oneself to their locations. There are several means for doing so, however, I encourage the use of your newly labeled features as reference points. For example, the Chomper Lodge in the Swamp of Death is north of the Secret Spy Hideout or the Sleeping Lady Mountain is located on the east side of the Roaring River. I will often randomly ask the kids to locate North to check in with their sense of direction, to ensure that they are paying attention to their surroundings.

I also make my children responsible for leading us to different locations. I hand them a map and facilitate their process as needed, increasing the challenge as their capacity to navigate evolves. This process also allows for problem solving and teamwork and, as a parent/ teacher, witnessing their sense of place development is very satisfying.

Here are some additional resources for furthering one's understanding of the cardinal directions and how to use the sun as a tool to locating them. I certainly learned a lot watching them. If you have any awesome resources on these topics, please share them.

This link has a lesson plan and video to help learn the basics of cardinal directions.

I found the first couple of minutes (of the first video) helpful for understanding how to use your watch to find South.

Shadow Stick Method - Finding Cardinal Directions (Simpler version)

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