Now that school is back in session, children have much less time to spend outdoors. Pressure to prepare kids for standardized tests has resulted in shorter recess periods. Older elementary children often have no opportunity to spend time outdoors during the school day, except for PE instruction.
Even preschoolers, who may still get time to run around outside, have few opportunities to notice and wonder about the natural world. Playground time is for socializing, developing large motor skills, and burning off excess energy.
That means it’s up to parents and caregivers to offer children a chance to connect spiritually with nature. One simple way to do so is to introduce the concept of ‘sit spots’ and then make time for children to use them regularly.
A sit spot is a quiet place outdoors chosen by a child for observation and reflection. Children visit their spot for at least 10 minutes every week or two over the course of a year. They use their senses to notice the world around them and pay attention to how it changes over time. They wonder about natural phenomena and reflect on their emotional responses to what they experience.
Invite children to pick a spot somewhere outside that they can revisit regularly. Suggest that the spot needs to be comfortable enough to sit for a while, with no prickly plants or pesky insects. It should be far enough from hazards that they needn’t worry about slipping, falling, or being hit by vehicles. And it should provide them with lots of things to observe. Model the process of testing out potential locations by trying a few and noting their pros and cons aloud before selecting your own sit spot.
Begin sitting for short periods and gradually increase the time. Encourage children to sit in their spot for 2-3 minutes and use their senses to notice what they can see, hear, smell, and feel. Add 1-2 minutes each time until they are sitting for at least 10 minutes. Older children and younger kids who particularly enjoy the practice may want to spend as much as 30 minutes sitting. Gauge children’s stamina and increase the time accordingly.
Provide some structure for children’s sit spot time. Once children have practiced using their senses to notice what’s around them, suggest that they also pay attention to what has changed since their last observation. Make a list of reflection prompts, such as I wonder why…, I imagine that…, I am surprised…. Offer them a journal so that they might write down their thoughts or make sketches. Or encourage them to make up stories using their experiences as a starting point.
Conclude with a time of sharing. Use a chime or other simple sound to signal the end of your sit spot time, then gather for shared reflection. You might pass around hot beverages when the weather is cool or enjoy popsicles when it’s hot. Ask questions such as What thoughts or observations would you like to share from your sit spot time? How did you feel while you were sitting?