The quality I am going to write about today is something I wish I was better at. On the 15th day of the #blogchatterA2Z challenge, I will talk about O for Observation. According to the Oxford online dictionary, “observation is the action or process of observing something or someone in order to gain information”. We use all our five senses to observe and make sense of the world around us. We understand things, objects, happenings, phenomena and people with by observing them.
A keen sense of observation is an important skill to have and has varied benefits. First and foremost it helps one be more aware of their surroundings – which is an important survival skill. In fact thousands of years ago humans survived just by observing the world around them and by being aware of whatever dangers may come their way. Even today this skill is as important even though our dangers may not be from a predatory animal and more from predatory humans.
I also want to link observation skills to intuition here. Observation is about situational awareness and interpreting the verbal or non verbal cues around us. So it is important not only to notice and understand what we see, but also what we feel. It could be either a person or a situation. Many times when things go wrong we remember how we didn’t pay attention to various hints and did not act on time. Keen observation, hones the “gut feel” or the inner voice. Example, an adult may be very nice to a child, but small actions or gestures may make the child feel uncomfortable. This is the child’s gut instinct combined with his observation of this person’s behavior. Many a situation can be avoided by being a good observer, believing in the gut feel and acting on time.
A keen observation also helps to increase curiosity and tends to increase knowledge and makes one smarter. Good observation also helps in forming stronger relationships as it helps you focus on other people’s feelings and reactions. By being a good observer one pays attention to both the big picture and the small details. It makes one more perceptive, a better worker and a better citizen too.
Hopefully, having convinced you of the importance of observational skills, let me now share some tips on how to make our children more observant!
- Teach them the difference between observing and looking: seeing and looking at things may not mean you are committing them to memory. Observing is essentially looking at things or events with the intent of remembering them or making sense of them or to ask questions about them. Encourage them to be mindful of their surroundings. Play I Spy with them. “I spy something in green” and then ask them to find that thing. There can be many variations of that. Play hidden picture puzzles. Tell them to notice things carefully, pay attention wherever they are and draw inferences (not judgments) about what they see. After all, gravity was discovered when Newton not only saw the apple fall, he also thought about why it fell down rather than going up in the sky.
- Work on their memory: Ask them regularly what they observed. For example, if you went to a party or to the market, ask them what they noticed. E.g. How many kinds of cereals were in the aisle or how many people were in the line before us for billing. What kind of plants are at the entrance. My husband is very observant and this was one of the games his mom played with him and his brother. In general, play memory games with them. From the point of view of improving their observation, play games that involve the senses. I remember one party game that I really liked – bring a tray of assorted things (15-20) in front of children, keep it in front of them for a minute or so and take it away. Then ask them to write all the items they remember. Similarly you can blindfold children and make them smell or taste different things and ask them to write them out. You can ask your child to write everything that is there in their bedroom or sitting room and then go back and see what they missed. Memory was another card game I really enjoyed – you lay down all cards face down and open two at a time. If they are pairs you get to keep them or put them back.
- Attention to detail: this is another aspect of noticing or observing. Ask children to describe what they saw. Take them to the garden and ask them to observe leaves, flowers, insects. Ask them to describe the shape, colour, features etc. When you go to the market, ask them to notice products carefully, their packaging. E.g. what is written on the box of chocolates and so on. If they are making something ask them to describe that also in detail.
- Observe body language: it is very important for children to understand the cues they can get from body language. Body language constitutes more than 50% of our communication. I touched upon it briefly in my blog on Language. Make this into a game at busy places like restaurants or airports and watch people. Try to gauge what they are feeling or trying to do. You can also switch on the TV and turn off the volume and then try to gauge what is happening.
- Ask them to notice phenomena: encourage curiousness. Ask them questions. Let’s say there is storm or rain. Ask them what is happening. Then follow on with what they think might be causing it. Similarly, ask them to notice one thing everyday that they couldn’t understand or was new to them. Then think of what happened and why. This is how you lay the foundation of an inquisitive mind.
- Meditation: I talked about meditation and its connection with the brain’s efficiency in my last blog. Practice a little bit of meditation every day. It helps to reduce distractions and removes clutter from the mind. It is definitely not easy to do with kids (I myself find it difficult) but try doing it together and they are likely to catch on.
I am quite excited about the list I made and am promising to follow as many as possible with my kids and myself – given this is something I myself need to work on. Let me know which idea you liked best and share your suggestions with me too.
Read my other blogs on the series here:
C is for Courage of Conviction