Take a Break and Observe!

by Jill Slagter

“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.”  -William Morris

Have you ever tried to walk somewhere with a two year old? I bet you never realized how many flowers were in bloom or how many little slopes were on the sidewalk until a child stopped to check out each one of them. Young children are constantly observing. The environment is still so new and thrilling to them while we as adults have become habituated in this world and often don’t stop to pay attention to the details.

I have been reading “On Intelligence” by John Hawkins, where he spends a lot of time describing how the brain works. The basic premise is that the human brain is a memory-prediction system. The brain stores experiences, relates them to other experiences and uses the memories of all these experiences to make predictions. As we get older, we stop truly observing. Our brain has gotten so competent at predicting that there’s no need to observe every detail. The problem is that being able to observe and make connections that aren’t always predictable is what leads to creativity.

As the famous psychologist Piaget describes, children are natural observers and like little scientists. They make observations, form a hypothesis, test their hypothesis and adapt as necessary. This is how they learn. We’re often in a hurry to get somewhere, but one of the best ways to help children learn is to try to stop rushing and let them observe. If you can encourage children to continue observing and find the joy in really paying attention, they could become adults who do not only see the current patterns but are also able to create new patterns.

A few suggestions to help encourage observation:

1. Leave twenty minutes earlier so that it’s okay to stop and smell some flowers for a few minutes. Instead of hurrying them along, ask questions such as “Did you notice…” or “I wonder why…”. Make sure not to give the answer away. Children start losing their natural curiosity when we start telling them how things work instead of allowing them to discover things on their own.

2. Get some interesting observation tools in the house such as prisms, magnifying glasses or mirrors.  Or, put together a sensory tub or table and let them get messy. Check out one of our visitors participating in our Early Explorations in Science program. What will happen when she adds green?

3. Set up a nature table. When you go for walks, have children collect different items they find. This allows them to really observe nature and become aware of the different seasons of the year. Check out this beautiful table from Buggy and Buddy.

4. Get a sketch book for your child (and for yourself). Next time you’re out for a walk and you see a beautiful plant or an interesting insect, try drawing it. Don’t force it. Children are often just content observing, but once they get a little older, keeping a sketch book is a fun way to document their observations.

Keep in mind- It’s good for you too! Take a break from the hustle and bustle of life and just breathe.


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