Picking up from where I left off last week with Koysdar’s poem, To Know a Thing, I have been reflecting on how to encourage my children to “look closer.” I found it interesting that in a quick google search, I found numerous sites discussing the benefit of observing children in education, including some research papers. I am yet to find anything about encouraging your children to observe. It is time-consuming, and seemingly unproductive. After all, how much more quickly can a teacher transmit information to a child through lecture than through even the best crafted opportunities in discovery learning? But as Professor Seymour Papert (pioneer of artificial intelligence) once said,
You can’t teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it. Trainingzon.co.uk
In other words, you give them the tools they need. And observation is perhaps the foundation of learning. More than simply seeing, observing requires attention and perception. It is noticing fine details and subtle differences. It is looking closely. When you see a fern, do you see a fern, or do you see “tiny worlds framed in dew drops?” Observation is the beginning of wonder. The closer we look, the more we see and the more we find there is to know.
- For a simple exercise, lay under a tree and watch the breeze rustle the leaves. All of my children loved this as infants. It is nature’s mobile, something I never appreciated until I joined my then six month old son lying under a tree. The light dances and the undersides of the leaves appear to change shape and color in a fluid gambol.
To observe takes practice. It takes time. And it takes the patience to look at the same things in in new ways. The Impressionist Claude Monet practiced capturing moments and the impressions of those moments. As the first “painter of light,” he explained,
I know that to paint the sea really well, you need to look at it every hour of every day in the same place so that you can understand its way in that particular spot and that is why I am working on the same motifs over and over again, four or six times even.
In many ways, children seem natural observers. A simple walk through the neighborhood used to take an hour because my son would stop every few feet and lie down to watch an ant. He studied it, touched it, felt its tickle. He placed obstacles in its path to see what it would do. It was in tearing him away from these observations that I began to wonder how much we train our children for a short attention span.
From this, I’ve discovered a few simple ways to encourage my children to observe the world around them, making discoveries and collecting experiences:
- Get out of the way and give them time to explore.
- Study an object myself.
- Take things apart. Study their parts and the whole.
- Draw things. It is amazing how often in a sketch you tend to draw what you “know” is there rather than what is actually there.
- Ask questions. Draw attention to shape, color, texture, scent and even taste.
- Play with nature. Looking at the plants around our home as potential play things has changed the way my children and I look at plants.
To know a thing, we must first observe it. Patiently, frequently, thoughtfully.
What do you do to encourage observation in your children?
For more posts in this series: