Build Children's Observation Skills with Sit Spots
When I switched from a traditional school setting to a nature school, one important question I needed to answer was “How are the children going to spend their time outside, and how will I make it meaningful?” One of the most successful activities our class does on a regular basis is visiting our sit spots.
A sit spot is a child-selected space where he or she can observe nature. Sit spots provide a good starting point for teachers and classes wanting to try nature-based learning because they require no set up, equipment or specialized knowledge. Children return to the same sit spot regularly over the course of a school year to notice how nature changes over time. The Association of Fish and Wildlife recommends visiting the spots in rain and shine and bringing notebooks along to record observations.
Benefits of Observing in a Sit Spot
The children in Wildwood Nature School benefit from visiting their sit spots regularly. Modern life often moves too quickly for young children. Sit spots encourage children to slow down, and reward patience with new insights about nature and people’s connection to it. Last year, some of the children noticed brown leaves on the ground in fall only to have them “disappear” in the spring. After much discussion, more observation and some carefully chosen books to read aloud, the children concluded that the leaves did not really disappear, but rather joined other nutrients in the soil to support new growth.
Sit spots also provide children with an opportunity to hone their observation skills and reflect on all of the new sensations that they experience on a daily basis. When a child makes a connection on his or her own it is more rewarding (and more memorable) than when they learn about it second hand. The children take ownership of THEIR sit spots, and joyfully report to the group the new insects, leaves, and happenings in the spots.
Setting Up Sit Spots
Setting up sit spots is relatively simple. A sit spot needs to be a place where the child can sit comfortably for an extended period of time. It should be solitary and separate from other children’s sit spots. Most importantly, a sit spot should have varied and interesting things to observe.
When I first introduce sit spots to children, I model how to choose a spot. At our school, there is a clearing in the woods where I model my process for the children. I walk around testing different spots, musing aloud about how much room there is to sit, how many different colors are in each spot, and how many different textures I can feel. I look above, below, and behind me and comment on what I see. I sit quietly and listen for birds, frogs, and wind rustling the leaves. Once I have modeled choosing my own spot, the children choose their own spots.
Activities in Sit Spots
Just like any other new activity, sit spots take practice. Children need practice finding their spots and extending the amount of time they spend in silent observation. We start our observation time at one or two minutes and then slowly increase the time that children spend in their sit spots. Later, I introduce clipboards and pencils to take notes. Sometimes we bring tools – magnifying glasses, mirrors, small trowels, rulers, guide books – into the sit spots to guide and enhance our observations.
The class follows the same basic structure each time we visit the sit spots. First, the class meets as a group to decide our sit spot focus. Then the children have time to go to their sit spots to observe and take notes. Finally, we convene again to talk about our observations.
At times, children are free to reflect on their own in their sit spots, and other times the teachers focus their observations. We have focused on using a single sense at a time, such as listening for as many sounds as we can hear or smelling all of the flora in our spots. We also look for change in the environment over time and how the animals affect the area. We have learned how to look closely to discover signs of animal life and to use a magnifying glass to explore the soil. The questions generated by our sit spots sometimes serve as springboards for new studies of the plants and animals that populate our environment.
Sit Spots Work Even with Limited Access to Nature
Sit spots help children learn from their immediate environment, wherever that is. It is not necessary to have access to a large forest. A Kinder Korner blog suggests using foam puzzle mats to define comfortable all-weather sit spots on a paved playground. A school garden would be a lovely place for a sit spot or even a seat in front of a window.
Children can observe nature anywhere that insects climb or birds fly. They can observe the wind and clouds or watch the sun create shadows. The importance of sit spots is to give children a connection to the natural world through observation and reflection. Sit spots provide a valuable opportunity for students to slow down and engage with their environment, their peers, and their own thoughts as they reflect on their observations. In our busy world, these times are not only precious, but necessary.