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Monday, 6 October 2014

Magic Spots - the most important activity in earth education?

This simple activity is part of all earth education programmes. At Sunship Earth participants have many magic spots including early morning and night-time magic spots. Many youngsters report that the magic spot was their favourite activity. It is certainly a very engaging activity which gives close contact with the natural world. Dr Chris Walton has researched the impact of Magic Spots for his PhD and has collected some very moving reports from young people. Maybe he will share some of these with us?

First hand frequent contact with the natural world is crucial in creating an environmental ethic. Frequent and ongoing magic spots are also, I believe, good for mental and emotional welfare and I suspect also for physical well-being.

I frequently walk in the Wyre Forest, keeping up a brisk pace, sometimes pausing to look at birds through my binoculars. However, this week I realised that though I frequently extol the virtues of magic spots I had not treated myself to one of my own for a long time. So I did. I left the path, found a small tree surrounded by bracken and settled down. An hour passed very quickly!

Please share your own thoughts and experiences of magic spots and any observations that you have of their impact on youngsters.

John Rhymer


  1. Hi John, great to read this. Inspired me to dig out the following, written in a Magic Spot on Kangaroo island in Australia, October 1997.

    Magic Spots Ramblings

    Day One - Waves patter as I sit there and relax. When I look around I see birds flying free in the sky and rocks seem to be talking to each other in a kind way. Although people talk to me I take no notice. I am too involved in watching and listening to the earth speak. After listening to the earth I try to listen to my friends, but all I can hear is nature calling me to listen.

    Day Two - I lie on a rock, as peaceful as can be. I hear birds squawking, chirping. Everyone has put their veil of silence on, so all I can hear are flies, birds and trees....rustling, buzzing and chirping. All of a sudden the trees seem to have put the veil of silence on as well, (but not for long.)
    As I sit here, I wonder what the birds are saying. The sky looks as grey as anything. It almost feels as if I'm in a bucket and some grey paint is going to tip on my head. Soon we unveil our veils of silence and I tell my friends about my experience.

    10 year old; Woodville Primary School, Adelaide, South Australia

  2. After the heart warming Saturday meeting I am pleased to respond to John’s challenge or request to add something to the blog. My research (2001-2010) turned out to be less about the impact of Magic Spots on children as the significance of them for their lives and connectedness with the whole of the more than human community of the planet.

    Since I got back from Ringsfield I feel that when I’m here [Holloway, a district of inner city London] with all the noise and pollution I feel that my thoughts are in prison, they are all a blur, but when I was there, sitting in all that silence with all the space, all my thoughts came flowing out of my brain, like I couldn’t stop them. (Girl, 10 years old)

    As I breathed the morning air I could smell the newly cut grass out in the field. It felt like the whole world was as still as I felt. In my head I felt as though I was about to float up in the air. As my mind wandered off in another world. I could hear the whole world waking up. (Unnamed, 9 year old)

    It was peaceful. I really liked being on my own for once thinking about all the silence around me the smell of the breeze

    As I listening to the birds singing, I could see birds flying to one tree to another. I was wondering things such as how do birds sing? However I could smell the air blowing through my hair…I could small the oxygen coming from the trees.

    As Earth Education teaches us we need to spend time, energy and care facilitating these precious times of solitude in the natural world. My research clearly showed that Magic Spots are rich for the children as long as they occur within a atmosphere of gentle empathy and shared expectancy. They are a space of mystery, ‘a spatiality of orientation towards a possible world’ (Ponty 1996, 285). For the children in their Magic Spots this is likely to be a new world.

    In my magic spot I have noticed some really amazing things. I noticed a colourful ladybird and bugs. My favourite is hearing the wonderful trees going ‘Wisha wisha wisha’, it sounds as if they were really enjoying their selfs. And the fresh air makes me think of a new world.

    ‘The opportunity for children to be able to enter other spaces in which they can be what they are has been shown to be frequently sought after, for example in retreating to a favourite place to be alone and to contemplate (Erricker et al 1997, and Hyde 2005, 38).

    A large old oak tree cort my eye, i decided to draw it. as i drawed I wondered about that bird and why it made that noise maybe it was angry, sad? Who knows! I’m not sure what came into my thoughts next it was a mixture of anger, sadness and lonliness, i understand the anger, sadness but not the loneliness perhaps its to do with the amount of space there is around here. (Boy, aged 8, 2004)

    You can hear the wind breezing in all different directions. You can sit there peacefully and think of your own intentions or just day dream. If you look all around you, you can see rocks, sheep and nothing but greenery. My secret spot makes me think sad and happy memories and all about my secret stuff. I love my secret spot!

    I like how the sun shines and the buds are all singing and the flowers are blooming and all nature is out. (unnamed, 8 year old, 2002)

    What a privilege to be given the opportunity to offer the children in our care this experience, as John Chryssavgis puts it:
    A way of waiting, a way of watching, and a way of is a way of interiority, of stopping and then of exploring the cellars of the heart and the centre of life...silence is never merely a cessation of words...rather it is the pause that holds together all the words both spoken and unspoken. Silence is the glue that connects our attitudes and actions. It is fullness not emptiness, it is not an absence but the awareness of a presence. (Chryssavgis 2008, 46)
    There’s plenty more, but I guess a blog is not the time to write even this much. Maybe it’s a book! I have the references, but I deleted them because of available space.
    Chris Walton

    1. Loved the silence passage Chris. Presume you did an abstract. Do you have the literature review for the phd available????

  3. This comment on Magic Spots has been sent in by Gillian Raven who worked at bishops Wood before going to work in Nairobi.
    Great to read these posts about magic spots – they remind me of the many magic spots I led with classes at Bishops Wood and how these were always such lovely times in the middle of often very busy days! I’ve listened to many beautiful poems written during magic spots, heard children recount what they’ve seen and heard of the natural world as if for the first time and experienced boisterous and noisy children say after a magic spot that they really enjoyed the peace and relaxation of those times.
    Several teachers I worked with tried out magic spots back in the school grounds and found their students calmer, more relaxed and with refreshed brains afterwards.
    I spent some time working in a local school with a small group of children with behavioral difficulties. We tried out various earth education activities in the school grounds, including a magic spot and one small boy (age 7) whose behavior in class was constantly disruptive was completely thrown by it. Having been sat in longish grass on his own, but not far from others, he called out constantly for someone to come and sit right next to him (the teaching assistant went) and was shouting, “this isn’t the jungle you know!” I’d never suggested it was! Clearly a degree of fear and insecurity was brought to the surface by the activity. I didn’t have the opportunity to pursue things any further, but I wonder whether the structured silence and solitude of a magic spot might, if repeated, have led to the beginning of some kind of resolution for him - perhaps through psychological space being created for him to talk? I’m sure someone out there must have tried this…
    I’m now living and working in Kenya where the pace of life is somewhat slower than in the UK and people sometimes just sit… It’s good I think. On the other hand there are people here, living in the slum areas, who are constantly assailed by noise, simply because they live in such very close contact with family and neighbours. How would a ‘magic spot’ work for them I wonder?
    The organization that I work with, A Rocha Kenya, a Christian conservation organization, recently had a staff quiet morning in which we sat alone in our small patch of highland forest to look at and listen to the natural world around us, to reflect and to pray. An extended magic spot really! When we came back together there was so much to share - of the small wonders that we had seen and heard, of new activities we could engage in and of new understandings of who we are as an organization. Although we had been apart for the majority of the time, there was also a beautiful sense of being built together as a team. What a simple and effective way of reinvigorating our work commitment and connecting with each other!


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