5 strategies to enable observations
Updated: Mar 25, 2021
This is part 1 of a series of blogs to enumerate habits essential to building scientific temper in students. This week we focus on making observations.
Slowing down and observing living and non-living objects or happenings around us is the first step towards building a scientific temper. Observing enables us to notice nuances, patterns and oddities, and come up with important questions that can improve our understanding of and connect with the world.
Here are 5 strategies to enable observations at home and at school.
1. Prime the child to observe
The child can be primed to make observations by inducing curiosity or creating a conflict in their mind. Children are generally curious and will have a lot of questions about the thing that they are supposed to observe. Letting them know that they need to observe and note down the questions that come to them while observing will get their observational muscles ready. Children are more likely to make nuanced observations if they have been challenged on something they thought they already knew. For example, you notice that your child refers to a nest as a bird’s home – a place where a bird spends time during the day, feeds, and sleeps at night. You want to rectify this misconception through observational activities.
In both these ways, we create a general structure for children to make observations under, but we don’t give them a specific direction or thought to hold on to. This allows for explorations during their observation.
2. Avoid definitions and labels
One of the foremost things to kill curiosity and hence the drive to observe are labels or definitions. For example, the observation task may be to notice the birds visiting a particular tree. Encourage children to make observations about the birds’ size, shape, colour, behaviour and such. The moment you label the bird a crow or a sparrow, the curiosity about the bird ends! Similarly, if children are observing how leaves fall and when they fall off trees, the moment you label different times of the year as seasons, the curiosity is gone. (And in majority of India, leaf fall actually happens in late winter and the so-called spring season!)
3. Communicate clearly what the child should expect
Observing is different from a lot of other hands-on activities. In other activities, a child may be physically busy, but with observations, they will be mentally busy. This is important to communicate.
If you have a routine in place for when the child should be observing, let the child know the fixed time to observe something or fixed intervals to do so. For example, you may tell the child that she should watch the birds in the banyan tree for 10 minutes every morning and late every evening from the bedroom window.
4. Communicate clear criteria for observations
The criteria for observations depend completely on the reason the child is doing the observation exercise. In some cases, you may not have any criteria, instead wanting the child to simply observe and come up with questions. In other cases, you may want the child to notice something specific. In both cases, letting a child know why they are making observations is important.
For example, if you ask a child to simply observe the birds in the trees, they may focus on the colours of their wings, the sounds they make, or the food they eat. However, if you want them to focus on their behaviour in nests, it is important to communicate criteria accordingly. In such a case, you may ask the child to observe which birds they notice in the nest, how often the birds visit their nest, what their behaviour in or around the nests is, and so on.
5. Talk about the importance of patience
Making regular observations inculcates the skill of patience in children. However, this skill requires practice. When you begin this process, communicate clearly to children that making observations requires patience – and that they may only see something interesting if they are patient. In time and with repeated observation activities, children will begin to understand what they are observing and learn more about it. Observation sessions must last for at least 15 minutes. Anything shorter, and students know they can get away without deep observation.
STEM projects and activities in unboxED always begin with children making observations. The STEM manual includes clear instructions for making observations as well as plenty of opportunities to observe objects and events to build children’s understanding of the world around them.
unboxED offers the child and educator resources to build a growth mindset while exploring Literacy and STEM concepts through conversations and creation, and letting kids be kids. These products have been built keeping in mind the academic and cognitive skills needed at various stages of the child’s development.