Updated: Feb 7
You want to develop your children's observation skills. What do you do? The
Got-A-Head®? game will introduce them to new techniques and have plenty of exercises to reinforce them. However, it's important to bring those techniques out into the real world, to show the learners how useful observation skills can be in their everyday world. You can do that in an entertaining but meaningful way by doing a Rainbow Walk together. That kind of walk will give your children specific objectives that tie in to what they've been doing in Got-A-Head®? while having fun together as a family. It's a flexible approach that you can vary to match your particular environment, and the individual(s) concerned. This blog will discuss some of the possible variations, but members of the Got-A-Head®? community can download a range of Rainbow Walk sheets to get them started from the Resources page of the website.
At Got-A-Head®?, we consider Observation to have three elements: Searching, Awareness and Waiting as we mentioned in our See SAW blog. We've talked in other blogs about each of them (check out the following blogs for more information about Searching, Awareness and Waiting). In this blog, we're going to look at a practical activity that you could do with your child to practise their Observation.
We've taken a country walk as our starting point, but it could just as easily be a stroll around your neighbourhood, through a park, exploring your garden or varied to suit city streets. It isn't set in concrete, just a suggestion to get you off the starting blocks. We will also look at some ways that you could enhance the Observation activity with other elements: Thinking, Memory, Reading Effectively.
Awareness involves looking closely at the world around you. It's about considering what is 'normal' and what doesn't fit. Thinking about your surroundings in terms of awareness will give you a ready framework if you are Searching for something in particular as you can have anticipated where you might be most likely to find something or prime your senses ready for something to happen when Waiting.
A Rainbow Walk is primarily an Awareness activity as it requires the learner to be very conscious of the world around them, noticing particular things. There are elements of Searching (when they go looking for a specific item that is still missing from their list) and Waiting (if there is something that might appear at a particular point that would fit their requirements).
We'd encourage you to do a Rainbow Walk with your child(ren). It's a flexible activity that can be done in a variety of ways and the level of difficulty can be adapted to suit the age of the participants, how familiar they are with the activity, the environment and the conditions (season/weather etc.). It's an activity that you could even do inside or in a confined space (e.g. on a wet day) rather than as a walk (or do a driving version of it on a road trip).
First, establish what we mean by rainbow. We're looking for the specific colours of ROYGBIV or Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain. This could also lead to talk of mnemonics and an extra little activity - could they come up with their own mnemonic for the colours of the rainbow? In this context, we might go for Rambling Outdoors Yields Great Beauty, Incredible Variety.
For more advanced learners, there is scope to go beyond just the basic colours, allowing for quite technical discussions about refraction and colour theory.
The basic rule is very straightforward: find items for each colour of the rainbow.
The variations are only limited by your imagination, but could include things like:
finding the items in a particular order (i.e. the colours of the rainbow: ROYGBIV; or in reverse order)
identifying the smallest 'patch' that contains all seven colours
timing how quickly a child can find an item for each of the seven colours (you could use your phone to time them) - which colours were quickest to find and which were longest?
giving participants a set number of points for each item of a particular colour that they find (give the one that's likely to be the rarest for that particular walk, which will vary by season, the highest number of points) - this has the advantage of having a bit of maths practice at the end of the walk
giving a (bonus) point to a participant for being the first to spot a particular colour
giving a (bonus) point to a participant for spotting something particularly unusual (e.g. wildlife or a rare/noteworthy specimen of something)
discussing at the end the favourite item/colour each person had, and why
photographing the items - you could award points at the end for the 'best', 'most creative' or 'most unusual' photo of each colour (define, in advance, what your judging criteria will be)
making all items variations of the same thing (e.g. you could do a bird rainbow walk/activity where they have to spot a robin, coal tit, blue tit, woodpecker or one where all the items have to be wildflowers etc.)
To give you concrete examples, we took some quick snaps on a recent walk. We quite carefully didn't take along a 'good' camera and have 'artistic' shots, they are all just very quick 'point and shoot' images using a smartphone. We haven't cheated at all - they are all from the same walk.
Some colours will be exceptionally easy to find - green in the countryside or orange brick in towns. That won't present much of a challenge - so think about what you could do to make it more difficult. For instance, get them to count how many shades of that colour they can find or decide their favourite shade of that colour. Can they explain why? You might have to be quite generous about a particular colour - e.g. at what point does orange become brown? Quite apart from the points in the game, it could lead to an interesting discussion.
Some items won't fit naturally in any of the seven colours of the rainbow, so where would the child 'place' them? Can they name other colours they discover? Could you suggest a colour (shade) and get them to find that one, too? As well as adding to their vocabulary, it could lead to an interesting discussion. Did you know that the complexity of a language is often judged by how many different words it has for colours? If you are interested in colours and languages you might want to research it a little - a starting point would be Omniglot,
which is an online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages.
After the walk you could Read about Colour Wheels or explore the difference between mixing colours in paint and the colour spectrum in light.
The Observation benefits to this activity are obvious - the child gets to practice actively looking for things (in an entertaining way, rather than as a chore) while making them much more aware of their surroundings. It gives them a chance to use some of the techniques they have used in the game. For instance, if they are struggling to find an item of a particular colour, they could use a search pattern to help them. Using a Forget-Me-Not such as Anticipate could help them work out where they are more likely to find the colour they are looking for, while ADDA or Look OUT might suggest different places to look.
Awareness is also about working out what doesn't fit, what shouldn't be there. Can they find a man-made item of each colour within the natural environment?
That could lead quite naturally to a Thinking activity, considering how certain items got where they did or what they would have been used for originally. Or, to a discussion of ecology, damage to the environment etc. You could link it to a practical activity such as a Rubbish Walk. They find rubbish, getting points for each item (why not assign different points for each colour, to make it more interesting and it can lead to an arithmetic activity on their return), but bag the litter and take it home for proper disposal (if you're doing that, though, do consider safety precautions such as gloves, or a litter-picker).
Invoke Memory - get them to consider where they have seen a particular colour/shade before (preferably in a different context to the current walk). Could they link it to an artwork they have seen, for instance, or an item of clothing worn by a particular person (the distinctive red jumper of a relative, the yellow jersey from the Tour de France or a colour worn by a famous historical character)?
Thinking tasks can involve consideration of colour - anything from personal preferences (and why they like it/them) to where the dividing line might come between two colours. People see colours in different ways (and we don't just mean in terms of colour blindness, although that would be another interesting topic for discussion). After you get back from your walk, you could do some Reading about colour. That could be anything from exploring the causes and types of colour blindness to doing a hue test, or reading up on the history of colour (such as where the various colours of paint and dye came from).
Plants were used for dyes before we discovered cheaper chemical alternatives. The colour plants give doesn't always match what they look like though - and varies with the 'mordant' used to set the colour. This could be another topic for Reading, or even experimentation, when you get back home.
Not everyone has ready access to a country walk (or the wish to do one!), but that doesn't mean you couldn't still do a Rainbow walk around where you live.
Alternatively, take a walk around a local park or through your neighbourhood.
If you are in an urban environment, you don't have to go for natural colours - you could look for any kind of items in those colours. Some colours might be really tough to find (although anything in a window or shopfront is fair game!). You could leave them in for the challenge or replace those colours with something easier e.g. black instead of indigo; pink instead of violet.
When you want to make the Rainbow Walk more complex, you could make it a two-part process, by making the participant describe an item's location. A key element of Observation is being able to share with other people where to find something. That can be as simple as a word description (at the foot of that oak tree), to using compass points (north, south etc.), a clock face (the tall tree at 'ten o'clock') or very specific coordinates. The children could take it in turn to 'set' a rainbow object, which the others then have to find using the stated description/coordinates. If you are in a safe enough environment, (and at your own risk!) you could even get them to follow instructions blindfold.
A Rainbow Walk is a very simple activity, but you can make it as interesting or as complex as you wish. It gives a focus to a basic activity (i.e. a walk), practises techniques that they have been learning in the game and provides plenty of inspiration for discussion or further research on your return. It's something that you can do again and again, and get something different from it each time.
Our daughter enjoys doing it and will now spontaneously look for colours in her surroundings, particularly if she has spotted indigo/violet (which can be the tough ones to find). She'll then see how quickly she can collect her 'set' of other colours.
Do let us know if you do one and how it goes.