Welcome to our new series of Adventure in Place blog posts offering you engaging, close-to-home outdoor activities and techniques to keep you and your little ones inspired, well-exercised, and learning while enjoying integrated outdoor experiences.
Explore the concept of sit spots — a place to sit quietly and observe nature for short durations over an extended period of time.
Actively observing the natural environment around you in stillness is a great way to deeply connect to a new sense of place.
Imagine an owl as it sits quietly on a branch, peering over the forest floor — eyes turning ever so slightly without moving a feather. Doing this day after day, the owl becomes a master of observation ... and an inspiration to our children in this adventure.
And whether you select a section of grass in your yard to watch the birds and clouds pass by in the wind, or a vernal pool you discovered in woods behind your house — or even just an open window in the house — a sit spot offers you a consistent place and time to actively observe your natural surroundings, allowing you to expand your senses and let your mind go free. The benefits are plenty for both children and adults, fostering a meaningful connection to the world around you.
Sit spots are a break from the world. A place you can go and feel the sun, embrace the cold, or catch a glimpse of an animal. You must really be in the present moment to notice the changes from week to week, as they are small.
Your sit spot practice begins by selecting that space where you can return to each time to observe nature in stillness. You and your child can pick spots separately (or together if really young) — there is nothing else needed. Simply return to the same sit spot as regularly as you can over the course of a few months, or even better, a year, to witness any natural activity that occurs each time.
The longer you go, the more you’ll notice how much your environment changes over time. Visiting your spots whether it’s raining or sunny increases your opportunity to witness new phenomena in nature. Bringing notebooks along to record observations is a great way to engage your child and their processing skills.
This practice opens young eyes and builds a sense of wonder for years to come.
Everlasting Benefits of a Sit Spot Routine
As you get into a routine of visiting your sit spot regularly you will experience a slowing down of the mind — especially in children, similar to the experience of meditation. A keen awareness develops in us all. Children find the opportunity to hone their observation skills. They reflect on new sensations they experience during their sits: like which direction the most consistent breezes come from, or what types of bird songs they hear most often.
When your child tunes in and makes that deep connection to their spot on their own, they have a richer experience. It’s amazing to listen to their detailed reports about all the insects they saw sneaking by, the different types of leaves or nuts they saw on the ground, or sounds they heard. Sit spots are where you can connect and listen to nature. It makes you want to be outside and helps you feel calm in your heart.
This practice is a great way for your child to explore close to home and the rhythm of returning to their chosen spots makes them look forward to the experience. For adults, a sit spot can help you find your center — a place to settle your mind, cultivate awareness, and feel balanced. The rapid-paced reality is speeding around you and sit spots help you get back in the moment. As you evolve into a constant but quiet presence in the forest, you become another character in the natural story unfolding before you. You will notice as the natural world starts to share its story with you, offering the opportunity to observe things you may have never seen before.
Sit spots offer a different kind of awareness and a new approach to the outdoor experience.
Let's Get Started
Setting up a sit spot is really pretty simple. All you need is a place where you or your child can sit comfortably for an extended period of time. The best spots offer solitude and afford you a variety of interesting things to observe — anything from moving water to plants, to insects, birds, and animals. Think macro and micro when considering your view. A short walk to your spot is a nice way to move your body and get in the mindset.
When you first introduce sit spots to your child (or if the concept is new to you) try walking around and testing a few different spots and considering all that each spot has to offer. One might have a more open view, one might be more comfortable, one might attract more wildlife. Think about how long you can sit comfortably in one spot. Break down your observations and think about all the sounds you can hear. Look in every direction from each spot — see how much each angle changes your view. Finding a good tree to lean up against is a great start. As you continue to return to your spot over multiple months the seasonal changes will add a whole new dimension.
Solo time in stillness for young ones builds resilience and the opportunity to take ownership of their experience.
Just like any other new activity, the quiet focus at a sit spot takes practice. A child will need practice extending the amount of time they can spend in silent observation. Start with a few minutes and then slowly increase as you go.
Bringing notebooks and pencils and taking notes is an important way to re-focus attention and create a tangible log of experiences. Allowing children to do this on their own strengthens their abilities and gives them confidence as individuals. Encourage them to look for any new changes to their environment — one observation leads to another.
Remind them to check in with each of their five senses: what do they hear, are there any smells, what side of their face do they feel a breeze. Have them cup their hands behind their ears to increase the volume of the forest like a deer’s ears. Any new sounds now? Have them write down any questions they had during their sessions, as this will lead to all sorts of new studies and conversations when they return from their sit spot.
Discoveries are endless, including these mayfly larvae casings in a vernal pool.
Limited Access to Nature? No Problem.
This practice will help you and your children learn from your environment, wherever that is. You don’t need access to a national forest. Any spot that is comfortable and offers you a solitary space will do. Even a seat in front of an open window will open your mind to a wild world out there. It's really about the way you learn to actively appreciate our surroundings.
We can observe nature anywhere around us and doing so is worth our time and effort. Just try actively watching the wind push clouds around, creating shadows on the ground, and you will feel a sense of calm come over you instantly.
As we become more entangled in the digital world, it’s important for us all to reconnect to the natural world through observation and reflection. The practice allows us to slow down and engage with their environment in a new way — a way that gives us space to listen to what it has to say.
Unplug, slow down, and connect.
I hope you will give this practice a try. If you have children, encourage them to try it with you and eventually on their own. My young ones have been doing it for years and have stacked up more than a few journals filled with scientific-looking diagrams and philosophical meanderings and I’d sure it’s just the beginning for them both.
As NEMO's Creative Content Director, Randy Gaetano is a passionate outdoorsman and advocate for conservation. He can usually be found either sitting quietly in a treestand — waiting for a deer ... or sitting quietly on a longboard — waiting for a wave.