Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Honouring the Will of the Child:
Re-imagining the Role of the Sit Spot

Not Every Story is Written In Words: Using a plum bob or conifer cone to mark children's interests 

Have you ever observed a child transfixed on the goings-on of an anthill?  

What did you do?  

Oftentimes, we ignore a child's interests during their play time, rushing them on to some other place or event or we base learning around the teacher's interests rather than the child's.  In doing so, what the child notices and is interested in is forgotten in a flash as quickly as it occurred.  I am not suggesting that we stop at every anthill viewing but rather to become ever more mindful of the child's quest to learn by making discoveries based on their own interests.  To honour those moments as meaningful and worthwhile keeps the quest element alive in childhood as it is an integral part of a child's drive towards unearthing new discoveries and their willingness to engage in new experiences with an amenable heart.  Jay Griffiths describes the questing mind of the child in her book Kith or the North American version A Country Called Childhood: Children and the Exuberant World as,

     The questing mind must be quick to sign, signals and clues, running with, flickering with, lit with wit until paths of the mind work like paths of the land-they lead, they join up things of significance, they lay down patterns, they invite, they hold memory... The quest is the absolute opposite of enclosed childhood. ( p.266 Kith)

The quest is like tinder for fire, it ignites the spark that keeps learning alive.  When we honour the child's will in the moment of their sparked interest it is as though we are extending a fine filament, as fine as spider's silk, drawing the child to delve deeper into leaning.  It is not the environment that is prepared.  The environment exists at it is and the child makes discoveries within that environment based on their interests.

So, what do we "do" when a child sees an anthill and why is an anthill so important?

String a plum bob, plum-line, plummet, or conifer cone on a branch to mark the child's interest.

By honouring the will of the child we mark their interests as valuable instead of trivial, unimportant, petty or insignificant.  This salient moment can shape the way children view themselves as confident and capable learners.  Use a plum bob or conifer cone and string it from a branch or create a twig structure to suspend it from and hang it above the child's point of interest (the anthill, in this case).

A major component of Forest School ethos includes the idea of getting out of the child's way.  The child's interest in the anthill signifies the moment the child realizes that other lives exist other than their own, a very exciting revelation.  The theory theory, also known as Theory of Mind comes into play as the child begins to think about others thoughts, feelings, emotions, and intentions as separate from their own.  It's a sort of mind reading that develops overtime beginning as soon as age three, and the ability to recognize other minds is something that is absent in some autistic children or children under the age of three.  Animals act as pathways to thought and most children are naturally drawn to them.  Gail F. Melson speaks about children, animals and Theory of Mind in her book,  Why the Wild Things Are.

Understanding animal minds and feelings is not just an intellectual exercise in deciphering a radically different subjectivity.  The sensitivity with which children can do this is basic to there humane regard for animals.  Attunement to animal bodies and minds speaks to how well children can feel with and for animals and their environments.       (p.94)

This moment (realizing that there are other minds living out their own story) has been coined by John Koenig in The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows as Sonder: The Realization that Everyone has a Story.  

Not Every Story is Written in Words-How Learning Unfolds

 Learning at FS is joyful and playful.  It unfolds in an experiential manner and connects children to the land through stories that are shared, experienced and created.  The story of the ants in the anthill is experienced by the child and the other children in the class, if they are so inclined, as a shared moment through the use of the sit spot.  I mark the the point of interest with a plum bob also called a plummet, or a plum line, or I just use a conifer cone.  I tie a line to the plum bob or cone and hang it from a tree branch or the children  build a stick structure that supports the suspended cone in the absence of a tree.

Re-imagining the role of the sit spot or magic spot, the children are invited to choose one of these special spaces when we make time for sit spots and to revisit them often as the seasons change.

I invite the children to sit around the anthill and become artful observers in the lives of others.  To consider the lives of others, to imagine what is happening and what will come, what they need and are doing.  I invite them to sketch in their nature journals, to build around the site as they see fit, they doodle, paint, create structures, and watch as the little anthill changes when it rains, and when it is sunny, and as the seasons unfold.  The children create, imagines, play, and learn from this special place as they visit and re-visit it as it evolves through the changing seasons.

Exploring Special Spaces Outdoors:

 This is a project where we explored the reimagined sit spot with pill bugs or potato bugs.  We found them living under rocks and overtime, the children built a rock town for them.

Exploring Special Spaces Indoors:
I was honoured to participate as an educator in residence and a member of the York Region Nature Collaborative in the ThinkinEd March break event called The Art Of Play.  All of the materials used to create are non-consumable and recyclable.  Children participating in these wonderful events enter a community of learners that are consumer conscious and do not take away made crafts.  As in the atelier of Reggio Emilia, children are presented with beautiful materials to choose from and explore.   Reimagining the role of the sit spot, we began indoors in a backward sense with a single plum bob suspended over a round, green dot.  We watched this solitary green dot evolve into many magical and special places created from the imagination of children.  Children nurtured these special places by adding tiny creatures, pathways, plant life, rivers and streams, and fairy homes.

The child nurtures a special place:

As seen above, it can be an anthill, fungi, blooming buds, lichen, mossy trunk, mini habitat, tree roots from felled trees, sprouting plant life...  The child will lead you to their interest and the learning will stem from there.

How does the space change over time?
How does the changing weather affect this space (if outdoors)?
How does place impart meaning to the child?
How does the child view their own story unfolding?
How does the child view the story of the creatures in this space unfold?
How is place affected by both stories?
How are the story of the child, their classmates, and the story of the ants entwined?
As they children build empathy for the space and it's inhabitants how do the children impart meaning to it?  Do they add to it without disturbing it?
Does the space change? Expand? Connect to other special places?
Is a new space developing?

Establishing A Community of Learners:

I would like to establish a place where we can share our experiences, ideas and learn together as a community of practitioners. If you are a practitioner in a nature-based school or preschool or if you are a teacher that is incorporating nature based programming into your classroom curriculum, or if you are a homeschooling parent incorporating nature-based programming with your children you are invited to share your blog post with this new community of learners.  If you have written a blog on sit 

spots, please email me your blogpost link with a photo that will represent your blog and I will link your blog posting to this site with the goal of having a virtual meeting place for sharing ideas that stem from place-based, play-based, environmental inquiry, experiential learning in nature.  All you have to do is join this blog and then send me your email at 

No comments:

Post a Comment