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The tools of observation

The Tools of Observation

I’m always trying to increase my family’s observation skills. The skill of observing is not to be underestimated. We are ‘seeing’ all the time, but how much do we really observe? Observation can become discovery and investigation. Like reading, observation skills can to be learnt. And by ‘observation’ I don't just mean eyes, it’s senses too. And there is so much in nature to observe with our senses. Can you feel the wet grass on your feet? Can you smell the salt in the sea air? I’m drawing their attention to it all the time.
Patience and concentration is sometimes needed to. And we can all do with a bit more of that. Waiting at the waters edge to spot the tadpoles, standing quietly to observe the birds.

Building up observations.

I’ve noticed that what is observed once is spotted again and again and understandings are slowly built up. By observing seasonal changes to a familiar spot we’ve appreciated the simple blossom and change of leaf colour in a tree passed every day on the way to school. The tree became a character on our journey. And once we got interactive it just got better and better. After the sea anemone was squished the first time to see the water shoot out, its now always top of the search list at the tide line.

‘Did you see the moon?’

Prompting them them to look has always worked well , its become such a habit that now they are the ones pointing it out to me. We were on a London overground train once and when the doors opened my 7 yr old at the time let out a cry ‘look at the moon!’ which hung heavy in the dusk skyline. The entire carriage turned to look, and smiled.

Encouraging analysis

Observation is also analytical. Fruit picking is really good for this. It’s a skill to hunt through the leaves and branches for the fruit but then you have to analyse whether its ripe yet. What colour is it, is it soft or hard? All these use senses and our understanding of nature to arrive at a decision.

We are living in an age when visual literacy is a crucial skill, to be able to analyse and decipher what we are being presented with. I believe that observation skills must include learning to filter what we absorb. We now have access to so much information that i wonder whether an increased understanding of how to browse, filter and analyse what we see and read is needed more and more. I think it starts with an encouragement to properly observe and ask questions. So that is my mission, and we are starting with nature.

Scavenger hunts and Wildlife Watch spotting sheets are great ways to get them looking and stretching the observation skills. There are tools that we can use too. A pair of binoculars will make that car journey pass a bit easier or studying finds under a microscope. Taking photos with different types of lenses encourages compare and contrast of your results. However you do it just try to do it regularly. The skill of observing is like a muscle, unless we use it we loose it. Then so much more might be lost too.

Lisa Lillywhite - The Smart Happy Project, bringing numbers and nature together -

Images © Lisa Lillywhite