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Building Sensory Awareness: Activities to Experience the Outdoors – Without Sight

Sense of Place

Many of us have experienced that quieting our minds can help sharpen our sensory awareness. During this process, we might observe external and internal factors that went previously unnoticed. One method for attaining this state is to take away one or more of our senses, which frees up neurological capacity that was previously attending to sensory input. In the environmental education context, augmenting sensory input can give students an opportunity to experience themselves and others from a different perspective. This article focuses on several ways to take away one of our most utilized senses – sight – in order to heighten awareness and developing team trust in the field.

To start, you will need materials that safely and comfortably block sight. If blindfolds are not available, use anything that can create a complete light barrier around the eyes. Possible alternatives include shirts, bandanas, beanies, and hoods worn backwards.

Beginning with low stakes, the sit spot is an activity where participants quietly observe an ecosystem. Without their sense of sight, participants are invited to focus on the sounds and smells all around.  

The caterpillar walk is a great activity for trail walking, especially at night. To do this, blindfold participants and make a single file line. All participants put their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them. The facilitator, who is not blindfolded, slowly leads the group down a trail.

Considerations:

  • Use a trail that is free of roots, sticks, or other tripping hazards.
  • Walk slowly.
  • This activity is most powerful when participants maintain silence throughout.
  • Consider having a second non-blindfolded person walk alongside the caterpillar and guide any folks who veer off course.

For the trust run, find an open field and get all participants into partner groups. In each pair, one partner is blindfolded, the other can see. With arms linked, pairs walk around the field, careful not to bump into each other. As group comfort allows, the facilitator can invite participants to increase their pace from walk to jog, and even full on sprint. After about 2-3 minutes, switch partner roles.

Considerations:

  • This activity requires a considerable amount of team maturity and trust to operate safely. If you have any doubts, try a lower intensity activity and build up.
  • For the safety of participants wearing blindfolds, make sure the chosen area does not have any ruts or sudden changes in grade.

The human photographer is also a partner activity. The blindfolded partner is the camera, and the sighted partner is the photographer. The photographer leads her camera around and takes pictures by opening and closing the shutter. When the photographer opens the shutter, often by placing a hand on the camera’s shoulder, the camera takes his blindfold off for two seconds to observe the scene.  

The tree challenge is a partner game that focuses on tactile experience.  In this game, blindfolded participants are lead by their sighted partners to nearby trees.  Blindfolded participants have three minutes to use their sense of touch to explore the tree. They are then lead back to the activity’s starting location and instructed to take off their blindfolds. Finally, participants are invited to try and identify which tree they were stationed at while blindfolded.

Considerations:

  • With younger participants, it is especially important to discuss how to effectively lead blindfolded partners over obstacles like roots or rocks. Tips are: encourage slow walking and consistent verbal communication between partners regarding obstacles.

Finally, the sense test challenges blindfolded participants to identify items by using their remaining senses. The facilitator may give some mint to smell, or moss to feel. The blindfolded participant uses adjectives to describe the objects as an exercise communicating without using the aid of sight.

Considerations:

  • Since participants do not know initially know what type of item they are interacting with, it is key to check for allergies and to make sure that anything that will be observed using smell or taste is safe.

In summary, each of these activities aims to give participants a different sensory experience with the hopes of sparking more awareness through observation and inquiry. Feel free to tweak and expand any of these activities depending on the needs of your group. Happy explorations!

Many of us have experienced that quieting our minds can help sharpen our sensory awareness. During this process, we might observe external and internal factors that went previously unnoticed. One method for attaining this state is to take away one or more of our senses, which frees up neurological capacity that was previously attending to sensory input. In the environmental education context, augmenting sensory input can give students an opportunity to experience themselves and others from a different perspective. This article focuses on several ways to take away one of our most utilized senses – sight – in order to heighten awareness and developing team trust in the field.

To start, you will need materials that safely and comfortably block sight. If blindfolds are not available, use anything that can create a complete light barrier around the eyes. Possible alternatives include shirts, bandanas, beanies, and hoods worn backwards.

Beginning with low stakes, the sit spot is an activity where participants quietly observe an ecosystem. Without their sense of sight, participants are invited to focus on the sounds and smells all around.  

The caterpillar walk is a great activity for trail walking, especially at night. To do this, blindfold participants and make a single file line. All participants put their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them. The facilitator, who is not blindfolded, slowly leads the group down a trail.

Considerations:

  • Use a trail that is free of roots, sticks, or other tripping hazards.
  • Walk slowly.
  • This activity is most powerful when participants maintain silence throughout.
  • Consider having a second non-blindfolded person walk alongside the caterpillar and guide any folks who veer off course.

For the trust run, find an open field and get all participants into partner groups. In each pair, one partner is blindfolded, the other can see. With arms linked, pairs walk around the field, careful not to bump into each other. As group comfort allows, the facilitator can invite participants to increase their pace from walk to jog, and even full on sprint. After about 2-3 minutes, switch partner roles.

Considerations:

  • This activity requires a considerable amount of team maturity and trust to operate safely. If you have any doubts, try a lower intensity activity and build up.
  • For the safety of participants wearing blindfolds, make sure the chosen area does not have any ruts or sudden changes in grade.

The human photographer is also a partner activity. The blindfolded partner is the camera, and the sighted partner is the photographer. The photographer leads her camera around and takes pictures by opening and closing the shutter. When the photographer opens the shutter, often by placing a hand on the camera’s shoulder, the camera takes his blindfold off for two seconds to observe the scene.  

The tree challenge is a partner game that focuses on tactile experience.  In this game, blindfolded participants are lead by their sighted partners to nearby trees.  Blindfolded participants have three minutes to use their sense of touch to explore the tree. They are then lead back to the activity’s starting location and instructed to take off their blindfolds. Finally, participants are invited to try and identify which tree they were stationed at while blindfolded.

Considerations:

  • With younger participants, it is especially important to discuss how to effectively lead blindfolded partners over obstacles like roots or rocks. Tips are: encourage slow walking and consistent verbal communication between partners regarding obstacles.

Finally, the sense test challenges blindfolded participants to identify items by using their remaining senses. The facilitator may give some mint to smell, or moss to feel. The blindfolded participant uses adjectives to describe the objects as an exercise communicating without using the aid of sight.

Considerations:

  • Since participants do not know initially know what type of item they are interacting with, it is key to check for allergies and to make sure that anything that will be observed using smell or taste is safe.

In summary, each of these activities aims to give participants a different sensory experience with the hopes of sparking more awareness through observation and inquiry. Feel free to tweak and expand any of these activities depending on the needs of your group. Happy explorations!

About the Author
Steven Rasovsky