We live in an age of visual literacy. Simple observation activities can develop our ability to navigate our way through this visual lifestyle. Ideas and opinions are sold by images or eye catching memes. Improving our observation skills is the first step to being a savvy visual consumer. The Smart Happy Project has always been about increasing our ability to observe and to open our eyes to what is around us. I discuss more about the ability to observe and why we need it on this page. Below are 5 techniques that help with encouraging observation.
These are observation activities that are part of the 365 Nature Journal released by The Smart Happy Project. (dates refer to the calendar of activities that make up the 365 Nature Journal) They offer a host of ideas for different ways to observe. What I have tried to focus on here is to slowly build up the skill at the same time as offering opportunities to reflect on our observations. Reflection being a key part of observation – what have we seen? what can we learn from it? what does it indicate? these can be expanded into Nature Studies and incorporated into learning either at home or in the classroom.
Below I have categorised the observation activities listed in the 365 Nature Journal into 5 technique areas:
1) Seasonal Observation Activities
Beloved of the Waldorf curriculum, the observations of the seasons offer a gentle understanding and a sense of grounding for young children who are still to learn months and days of the week. There are the well known seasonal rituals of:
- the lantern walk in Nov, (Nov 11)
- Candlemas in February, (Feb 2)
- the maypole celebrations (may 1)
- the journey through Advent in the darkness before Christmas (begins Nov 25)
Also try to look out for the signs of seasonal growth and changes e.g.; early signs of spring and birds nesting (Jan 11), the Hawthorn tree is in leaf in spring (march 27) and the flowers are the welcome sign of the arrival of summer, or the leaves starting to dry out at the end of summer (august 8).
2) Nature Studies as observation activities
These offer opportunities to expand simple observations and get into a little depth in areas that may be of interest.
- trees – focussing on leaf shapes and tree identification, also noticing the growth marks on the branches and the formation of berries or types of seed pods. also the dormancy of the tree over the winter with the next season leaves waiting inside the bud. (dates from spring through to late autumn)
- birds – includes looking at behavioural and nesting patterns early in the year, watching for signs of the presence of their young. Knowledge of the types of feathers on a bird’s body and encouragement to get interactive and leave out food. (dates throughout Jan to August)
- insects – young children love bugs and insects. they seem to speak such imaginations with their movements and curious shapes and colours. A few simple watching and hatching projects.
- animal tracks – often hard to find, but a challenge is good and can be backed up by resources. Provides an insight into animals that share our natural spaces yet we rarely see. (a few dates over the winter months)
3) Me and the World – Sensory observations
Me and My World is about a personal engagement with nature. It doesn’t have to be mind-blowing revelations but just simple awareness of oneself in natural surroundings. frosty breath. tasting rainwater. walking barefoot in wet grass. rolling down a grassy slope with friends. Enjoying a lazy picnic or a bike ride.
- Sensory Observation activities
These are the observations that foster a love of nature. They start small and become loved habits. Later in life it may be these sensory interactions that remind of us of nature in our busy lives and cause us to seek out our connection with it. And it is about a sensorial experience of the natural world. seeing my frosty breath (feb 11), tasting rainwater (mar 13) listening to (sept 11 and june 16) Sensory experiences work on the being of a person, sometimes you can’t put it into words. Its a feeling that evokes an emotion and it uses all our senses.
our annual blackberry picking trip and the resulting desserts and jams that we make are a regular fixture of the autumn season. (august 27) It takes skilled observation followed by analysis to decide whether the fruit is ripe enough to pick. Also to hunt out the specific leaf shape of the sorrel or chickweed from the grass bank (jan 17). Don’t underestimate these skills. Get your revenge on nettles by brewing them up in a tea. (mar 8) or enjoy delicious fresh mint tea (august 9)
- using tools and screens for observation activities
Nature programs an be really inspiring and be a prompt to want to find out more (nov 18). Or there are lots of nature webcams that can be accessed go to explore.org or their app to see. Take photos on smart phones (jan 3) and zoom in to see the close up of the dandelion seeds. Use a magnifying glass or binoculars, sometimes its the tools that will initially get children engaged.
4) Encourage observation by prompting
Finally, get them talking about what they see. This may usually involve prompting them to look , then the discussion will follow. But unless you do it, the young people around you will not see the value in it.
“look at the red sky tonight!”
“can you see the baby ducklings?” (may 23)
“look at the shape that tree has grown into- why is that?”
5) Observation activities over time
By using the download sheets that support the 365 Nature Journal observations can be carried out over a week or throughout the month, which ever suits your situation. These observations open our thinking to us living in a world that is a changing habitat and that planetary movements are governing. There is one tree that we pass on our way to school that we have seen change throughout the year, its like an old friend we look out for.
- moon (mostly from end of sept through the early winter months)
- tides (throughout July)
- times of darkness (intro to this in may then an encouragement to record times from mid july to august when it is a good time to see the change in northern europe)
- height of shadow (on different days in february)