Updated: Feb 7, 2020
We've written before about ways to use your Observation skills as a stepping stone to creativity and visualisation. You'll find a print-and-go sheet with some suggested activities on our Resources page.
Here, we want to look at one of the activities more closely. It's a variation of the 'That Looks Like...' activity we discussed in Wonder Walks, where participants talk about what they thought something in their surroundings looked like.
This time, everyone playing the game has to look closely at the same item and discusses what they see. Do you see the same thing(s) or something different? Can you describe clearly what you see (and in which part of the object) to help share your vision?
Supposing one player picked this tree. They might see a giant birds' foot or someone pouring out treacle, so it oozes down. The next player might see a seat; the next the body and legs of a diplodocus, with its head out of sight in the leaves; another the body of a ship, with a figurehead at the front.
It's important when we're doing any Observation to change the way we look at things. Try looking at it from above, from below, behind or to the side. Does that affect what you see? We have a Forget-Me-Not to remind you to do just that.
So if we looked at the same tree from a different angle, would that change what the participants would see? Click on the arrows on the image below (you might need to tilt your screen to see them) to move between the three pictures of the same tree. What do you see?
Does it enhance something you had glimpsed before (e.g. seeing the body/legs/neck of a creature more clearly) or do you see something else entirely (giant insect mandibles)? Does what you think you saw (a figurehead) disappear completely when you move your angle or become more apparent?
As stressed with previous activities, encourage participants to engage their imagination by adding sensory details to what they 'see'. What would this creature/character/object feel like? Does it have fur or scales? Is it smooth or rough? Can you 'hear' the sound the diplodocus would make or the snap of those jaws? Can you taste the treacle? Smell it? Is the ship with the figurehead on the open sea, where you can feel the swell from the waves and taste the salt air?
All the participants will take turns choosing an object, but the key is discussing what everyone sees in each one: differences and similarities. If your children thrive on rewards, you can award points for the clearest description, or the one that is the most amusing.
As an added advantage, the activity will help them practise describing exactly where something is located (i.e. which part of the tree is the locus of what they 'see') as well as engaging their creativity.
Sometimes what is chosen will be just part of a larger object (e.g. the bole of a tree, like the cat/snake/squirrel example above) or the whole thing (such as the tree we saw as a ship with figurehead). You could, of course, vary the activity by 'growing' an image from your selected starting point. For instance, if the latter image suggested a bird's foot to you, think about what the whole bird would look like. What sort of feathers would it have - in what colours/patterns? What is its call? Is it a domesticated bird (if so, what would its owner look like?)? If it is a wild bird, where would it live? What would its habitat be like? What would it eat? What would it taste like if you ate it?!
Alternatively, you could start by choosing a small object and seeing how it 'grows' into something different. Is this the bone of an animal or prehistoric creature? What would the entire beast look like? When/where does/did it live? Where is the rest of its skeleton? Or, is it actually part of a musical instrument? What would that sound like? If it's part of a chanter from a set of bagpipes that would sound very different from panpipes from the Andes. If your child is artistic, they might want to draw the complete item.
You could take this activity in a completely different direction by making up a story involving the character/creature/object that you have spotted - or even include everyone's vision in the same story! You can do the story in stages (a bit like Consequences), with everyone adding a sentence in turn so that the 'story' grows organically or each person can tell a story inspired by their own (or their favourite shared by someone else) image. This could even be a writing activity once you get home.
The variations are endless - there are so many things to see and ways of looking at the world around us. You can extend the activity in different directions depending on whether the participants are artistic or love stories. Play to their strengths and they'll really enjoy it. Equally, you could get them to practise things they are not so good at, so they have a chance to improve in a fun, non-stressful environment where they can learn to do things in tiny increments at a pace to suit them.
Choose and Muse seems like such a simple activity, but it's actually incredibly powerful because:
it's a way to add fun to what might otherwise be a fairly ordinary walk
it practises observation skills
it enhances creativity
it practises description, especially looking at something in close detail
it engages the senses
it practises skills needed for discursive writing
it works on their discussion skills
they learn to compare and contrast different ideas
you can expand it in so many different directions, according to the strengths (or weaknesses!) and preferences of those concerned
it practises visualisation, which is a key element of many memorisation techniques
What do we mean by visualisation and how it can help memory? If you use a technique like a Memory Palace, being able to visualise objects will help you hang them on the 'hooks' better. The more clearly you can link an object to a hook or cue, the better you will be able to remember it.
Visualisation will also help when it comes to remembering abstract shapes. This can be useful if you are learning something like Chinese, where you have to remember what a character looks like, as well as what the foreign word is and what it means (and we'll go over ways that you can link all three together in a future blog). It could equally help with remembering a scientific or mathematical symbol.
Visualisation is a way for you to make a personalised link to something you need to remember. The more you personalise something, the more memorable you will make it.
If you find a particularly good object on your next walk, do share it with us along with the things your group 'saw' in it.