Our students are a force of nature unto themselves when we play in the forest. They are busy, creative, enthusiastic, engaged, and inquisitive. When we first introduced the idea of sit spots, we decided to select a time at the end of one of our forest play sessions when we felt we could expect greater focus from them. We commended them for the wonderful ‘work’ they had just done moving their bodies, working through imaginative play scenarios, building forts, collaborating, and solving problems. We wondered aloud if our amazing, through-the-roof energy, activity, and volume levels ever prevent us from really absorbing our surroundings with all our senses. I invited us to find a space all our own, to calm our bodies and quiet our brains, and just be. At first, a few children were apprehensive and resistant, questioning whether this was a “time out.” We assured them that there was nothing punitive about this! The invitation to take some solo time to quiet their bodies and open their eyes and ears and minds was, in fact, a gift rather than a punishment.
From my own spot at the base of a tree, I could see students gazing at the clouds, listening for birds and animals, watching an airplane pass overhead, playing with twigs, and picking at loose bark. For our first attempt, we released them after a few minutes; before the experience could feel tedious and the children could become restless and chatty. When we reconvened, we sat in a circle so that we could connect with each other as well as our surroundings. A collective sense of calm was tangible in our group.
Since that first attempt a few months ago, we have repeated the experience about a dozen times. In fact, the students have started to ask to visit our sit spots! We always return to the same site in the pine forest on the other side of the Magic Hole. Most children instinctually return to their own self-selected spaces which now feel familiar and comfortable. Some students choose to lie on their backs and look up at the sky and the tree canopy. Others lie on their bellies, smell the grass, soil, or snow, and look at what’s happening under their noses. Some students simply lean against a tree and close their eyes. Just like any new activity, sit spotting took practice. Over time, the children’s “stillness stamina” has increased tremendously. It is not uncommon that they will choose to spend 10-15 minutes completely quiet in deep observation. When we regroup, I usually ask, “What did you notice?” Students respond with, “A bird, a siren, the wind, etc.” We talk about what is from nature and what people have made. When we ask the children how they feel, they always say, “Calm. Peaceful. Relaxed. Happy. Comfortable. Free. Quiet.” If the moment feels right, we sometimes offer words of gratitude at the end.
Visiting the same site many times, in all kinds of weather, at various times of the day, and throughout the transition from autumn to winter has led to a feeling of connection with the land. Quite possibly, our amazing kindergartners might know this small sliver of the universe better than anyone else. Learning how to entertain themselves or just relax without help or input from others is important for the development of independence. Modern life often moves too quickly for young children. Taking opportunities to slow down and engage with their environment, their peers, and their own thoughts is important. As noted by Brené Brown, “It takes courage to say, ‘Yes’ to rest and play in a culture where exhaustion is seen as a status symbol.”