Each new day comes
With its prizes unassembled.
Be handy with your tools.
Tools For Learning
What tools does a child need to assemble the prizes that lead to learning and opportunities in life? And what can we do to help our children acquire these tools?
In blog post #10, we talked about helping your child achieve the tool of ACTIVE LISTENING. This post focuses on another, related tool for learning, OBSERVING. Our brains develop and expand by observing.
Step one in this process is to slow down. Then use all of your senses, seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting to gather information. We can gather this information much better if we have slowed down, maybe even stopped, and really focused on what we are observing. Of course, we must teach our children to be safe. Touching and tasting everything may not be appropriate, and can be dangerous. Even certain smells as well as sounds that are too loud can be harmful. It is our job to help our children understand this.
Step two is to think. True learning comes when we connect what we have seen, heard, smelled, touched or tasted to previous experiences or knowledge. And, what if the child can’t connect to what they already know? Or, they want to know more?
Then we go to step three, which is to ask questions and find answers. Certainly we, as parents, are our children’s first and continuing source for information. But we don’t know everything, and it is important to let them know that even adults have to go to other sources to get information. We can help them learn to gain knowledge by encouraging them to look for information from trusted adults, from books, from parent-approved internet connections, from the library (librarians LOVE to help people learn). What’s the best way to teach them this? Do it with them. If your child wants to know more about the snail crossing the walkway, don’t just say look it up in a book. Sit down with your child and the book and share the joyous experience of discovering. Your encouraging presence will help your child connect learning about new things with that warm, comforting feeling of your caring.
How To Teach About Observing
So, how can we help our children become better observers? We can do this by teaching them to slow down and use all of their senses, to think about what they observe, and to ask questions and search out information about the things they don’t know.
Here are some fun activities to encourage observing:
1.) Make lists of what they observe.
If your child is too young to write, you write the list of what they say (or you could do a picture list like the image below). You can even add to it. If you are working with several children, you could have different groups observing the same thing, then compare lists. The next time my young grandson visits, I’m going to do this. I’ve done it in the past and remember what fun it is to see your list grow and to be able to talk about all the things on your lists.
Some suggestions for lists — things that I see that are orange (or any other color), clothes I see, food in our cupboard, shapes I see (a couch is a rectangle, a table might be a square, a clock a circle, etc.), animals in the neighborhood (don’t forget that earthworm that came out after the rain). Or, it could be lists of what they heard, or smelled, or foods they tasted this week. Helping children make a list of people in their classes is a great way to get them talking about what is going on at school as they talk about the people and events that have happened. If a child is just learning sounds of letters, you can keep a list of everything they can think of that starts with a certain letter. It is even fun to keep a list you are working on posted someplace and add to it over a period of time.
2.) What do you see?
Ask your child to look around and tell you what they see. You can do this activity anywhere. It’s an especially great game to pass the time while you are waiting somewhere. Listen to the child’s answer, then, expand it. For example, if your child says, “a dog”, you say, “I see a dog with a very short tail.” Then ask your child to say something else about that dog. This is a good way to get your child to look for detail and to use sentences, as they will often copy you.
3.) What’s in the bag?
Put an object that your child is familiar with in a bag. (A pillowcase can make a good bag if you can’t see through it.) Let them feel the object through the bag, but not look. Let them describe what they felt and tell what they think it is before they look.
I’ve used this activity to encourage writing with groups of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. We listed our guesses, and why we thought that, then looked in and wrote about our observations and the actual object. This same activity can be used with young children too, just talk about the results or you write down what they say.
4.) What is that smell?
Put different spices or fruit in small, unmarked containers and let children smell them and guess what they are. Make these good smelling things so that this will be a fun game. Nobody wants to explore bad smells.
5.) What is that taste?
Get a blindfold and have your child taste some different foods. Have them guess what it is, then look. Make these good tasting things so that this will be a fun game. Nobody wants to explore bad tastes.
6.) Take a listening walk.
Pick a spot and just stop and listen. Talk about and write down what you hear. See our blog post #10 about Listening Walks for more on listening walks.
Read our other posts on helping your child acquire tools for learning.
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We live in an awesome world filled with wondrous things. Here is a video we made while observing along the California coast. What wondrous things are in your world? Help your children learn about and appreciate them. Make your own videos and send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can help show everyone what an awesome world we live in.