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Sitting in a circle outside - harder than you think

Environment

In 32 years of teaching outdoors, I have seen a lot of group circles. Not surprisingly, there are simple details that can make the discussion go much better. Unfortunately, most people are ignorant of them. With that in mind, here are 7 simple things you can do to make your next discussion circle fabulous.

1. Make it a circle Insist on forming an actual circle.

Everyone can see and hear each other and just like the knights of the round table learned, everyone has an equal place. Allowing an oval or a fold creates a micro-feature where someone isn't visible or has less access. Show you want full participation by all and make a circle.

2. Sit

Standing, squatting or kneeling all communicate someone expecting a short, uncomfortable time. Encourage everyone to sit by having pads, waterproof materials or natural materials available. The brain can only absorb what the butt can endure, so make things comfortable.

3. Sun in your eyes

Face yourself into the sun if it is shining on the group--squinting is for you to handle. This gives the added benefit of providing a spotlight on you that draws the eyes of the group your way if you are going to be facilitating things, writing something or demonstrating a skill.

4. You face uphill

Much like the sunlight direction, slight inclines feel more comfortable one way instead of another. This means that you should sit facing uphill if there is a slope. As added bonuses, you'll get an abdominal workout and a decent reminder to get up and moving again because of your own comfort level.

5. Use the center

With everyone facing inward, the middle of the circle has a lot of power. Place interesting objects or statements in that spot and all eyes will be unable to resist going there over and over. This helps remind everyone, including you, why you are there.

6. Explain the purpose

Make sure to tell folks what sitting in a circle means. For me, it is usually a sign that we are about to review skills or ideas we just learned, to cement them in place. So, I save the sitting circle for just these important events and use standing circles, semi-circles, lines and other formations for everything else (e.g. instructions, checks for understanding). Whatever your purpose for circling, make sure you have explained it so there are no surprises.

7. Maintain things

Keep an eye out for cues like squatting, kneeling, "dirt art" or going prone. First, this is feedback that you should probably change something up. Moreover, it is the beginning of a jailbreak where someone might be about to mentally or physically remove themselves from things. Be quick to notice, reinvigorate and refocus those folks, or at least mention in advance people can dig in the sand provided they show they are fully engaged.

In 32 years of teaching outdoors, I have seen a lot of group circles. Not surprisingly, there are simple details that can make the discussion go much better. Unfortunately, most people are ignorant of them. With that in mind, here are 7 simple things you can do to make your next discussion circle fabulous.

1. Make it a circle Insist on forming an actual circle.

Everyone can see and hear each other and just like the knights of the round table learned, everyone has an equal place. Allowing an oval or a fold creates a micro-feature where someone isn't visible or has less access. Show you want full participation by all and make a circle.

2. Sit

Standing, squatting or kneeling all communicate someone expecting a short, uncomfortable time. Encourage everyone to sit by having pads, waterproof materials or natural materials available. The brain can only absorb what the butt can endure, so make things comfortable.

3. Sun in your eyes

Face yourself into the sun if it is shining on the group--squinting is for you to handle. This gives the added benefit of providing a spotlight on you that draws the eyes of the group your way if you are going to be facilitating things, writing something or demonstrating a skill.

4. You face uphill

Much like the sunlight direction, slight inclines feel more comfortable one way instead of another. This means that you should sit facing uphill if there is a slope. As added bonuses, you'll get an abdominal workout and a decent reminder to get up and moving again because of your own comfort level.

5. Use the center

With everyone facing inward, the middle of the circle has a lot of power. Place interesting objects or statements in that spot and all eyes will be unable to resist going there over and over. This helps remind everyone, including you, why you are there.

6. Explain the purpose

Make sure to tell folks what sitting in a circle means. For me, it is usually a sign that we are about to review skills or ideas we just learned, to cement them in place. So, I save the sitting circle for just these important events and use standing circles, semi-circles, lines and other formations for everything else (e.g. instructions, checks for understanding). Whatever your purpose for circling, make sure you have explained it so there are no surprises.

7. Maintain things

Keep an eye out for cues like squatting, kneeling, "dirt art" or going prone. First, this is feedback that you should probably change something up. Moreover, it is the beginning of a jailbreak where someone might be about to mentally or physically remove themselves from things. Be quick to notice, reinvigorate and refocus those folks, or at least mention in advance people can dig in the sand provided they show they are fully engaged.

About the Author
Ray Cramer, M.S.Ed.

SENIOR FACULTY FOR TEACHING PRACTICUM, ISLANDWOOD

Since beginning as an environmental educator in 1982, Ray has taught at outdoor programs in Virginia, Vermont, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Virtually all of his experience involves what he calls “Turning work into play while helping people to make connections with the environment around them.” Ray’s life outside of IslandWood includes leading expeditions as a senior field instructor for Voyageur Outward Bound School and teaching for the Wilderness Medicine Institute. Education: B.S. in Psychology, Virginia Tech; M.S.Ed. in Outdoor Teacher Education, Northern Illinois University.