Find one place in your natural world that you visit all the time and get to know it as your best friend. Let this be a place where you learn to sit still – alone, often, and quietly – before you playfully explore beyond. This will become your place of intimate connection with nature.
– Young, Haas, & McGown. (2010). Coyote’s Guide To Connecting With Nature.
Much of what we learn as educators is attained through careful observation. Some of the most powerful professional development is when we take the time to carefully observe our colleagues, our elders, and our mentors. From these experiences we will learn much more than we can through books, journals, or workshops. In my first few years of teaching I was provided the opportunity to learn from Corinna Stevenson, who provided the children at the school with nature immersion opportunities at CanAdventure. Corinna is an extremely talented educator who embraces coyote as teacher, encouraging the students to discover meaning on their own, withholding easy answers, and forcing students to dig deeper or look more closely by providing just enough guidance. Three years later I am still reflecting on my experiences with Corinna, still learning from those invaluable moments in time. Her careful and thoughtful questioning, meant to provoke my learning further and to inspire my curiosity, often went unfulfilled on my end. Years later I find myself recalling these questions, which I am now ready to receive and to learn from.
I watched Corinna, like coyote, guide children of all ages to sit spot. The children knew the land well and were often sent in small groups to find somewhere on the land with which they connected. They spread far across the land in search of that special spot. Some may have found it, others may not. Some may have settled deep into the ground where others may have wandered. But wandering has its value, too.
At the time I mechanically “did” sit spot. I chose a spot. I sat quietly. I wonder if many of my students are the same. Not quite sure what a special spot means and not quite sure what to do when a spot is decided upon.
Over the years I continued to “do” sit spot. Initially, particularly when surrounded by students, it was a chore. Somehow, after all the doing I have done I am slowly starting to get it. Maybe it’s because I’m more mindful or maybe it’s because I’m more appreciative of the world around me. For me, sit spot is about the smell and the sounds of the forest. When I smell the soil after a rainfall, hear the wind in the branches or the birds, I feel a tension release from my body. I instinctively slow my breathing down and take big, deep breaths in and out. I feel my feet firmly planted on the ground and although this land may not be mine, for those moments I feel connected and a part of this place. For these reasons, sit spot discovered me.
Sit spot is a meaningful practice that now has a clear place within the new curriculum here in British Columbia. Within the “communicating” section of the Kindergarten Science curriculum, it explicitly states “express and reflect on personal experiences of place.” Further defining place, it asks the questions:
- “What is place?”
- “What are some ways in which people experience place?”
- “How can you gain a sense of place in your local environment?”
I cannot fathom a more meaningful practice than sit spot, incorporated with other powerful learning opportunities, to facilitate students’ development and understanding of place.
My learning is that developing a sense of place through sit spot requires patience and time, which is supported by the First Peoples Principles of Learning.
Sit spot has played a significant role in my classrooms over the years. In many ways I implemented it incorrectly, fearing that children would become lost or injured. I limited the space too much, keeping the children too close to one another and prevented them from fully experiencing what is possible. Like many things in life, I continue to learn and to change my practice in response to my new understandings.
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.
– Maya Angelou