Take a moment to think about a place that is special to you. Where is it? What makes it so special?
When asked these questions, many people respond with places they are intimately familiar with or places where transformation has happened. The majority of these places involve a water feature, invoke a sense of peace or home, and remind the person of good memories that they want to relive by telling the story of their connection to others.
Fostering a Sense of Place
It doesn't always take a lot of time to make this kind of connection to a place, though multiple visits over a period of time in a diversity of seasons will help foster it. The quality of the experience plays an important role as well. What you do in that place, the amount of reflection time you have, and the amount of mindfulness or attentiveness you bring to it matter.
There are many activities you can do to foster a sense of place in your students or yourself. Sitting in one spot for 10 minutes and observing, recording observations through sketching and writing, looking through multiple lenses - sharing our perspectives or mentally or physically taking on new perspectives. Zooming in, zooming out, lying on the ground looking up, using a hands lense, looking out from inside a hollow tree, sticking your head in the water with goggles, etc. Playing in a space, exploring it, taking care of it are all ways to make connections to a place.
Sixth grade students from Charlestown Middle School have been visiting a conservation trail along the Conneticutt River once a month this year. In the fall, they recorded observations from their own sit spot on the trail. This winter, the ice flows piled up and eroded the trail, so they couldn't get back to their sit spots. They used a forested area nearby for their monthly field day in February and many of the students were disappointed that they couldn't go back to their special spots. Even though they had only visited their sit spots twice before that, they had already made a connection with that place.
Photo Credit: Molly Drummond
Sharing your Story
After a connection has been formed it will continue to grow the more time that you spend in that special place. And at some point, you might want to share your connection or the place itself with others. There are many wonderful ways to do this - inviting a friend to go with you, writing about the place and sharing that writing, creating a Valley Quest (a treasure hunt of sorts that brings others to your place and tells and shows them how special it is), etc.
Unity Elementary School 7th graders are currently working with Lauren Griswold, from Vital Communities and Sullivan County's Natural Resource Dept. to form a sense of place with the Marshall Pond area and create a Valley Quest to share with residents of the Upper Valley. They are learning about the plant communities and wildlife that call the area home as well as thinking about how past land-use history and cultural history have shaped the story of this special place. Many students have already started to wonder what it will be like in the future.
Photo Credit: Molly Drummond
When a place becomes special to someone, they usually want to take care of it. They wonder about its future. They notice when it is misused or damaged. In other words, they feel a sense of ownership and responsibility towards the place. They want to be able to visit again. They want to take part in deciding what happens to it. And when they speak or act on behalf of a place, they become a steward of it. Not only sharing their story, but helping others to create their own stories with that place as well.