Updated: Feb 7, 2020
This blog is about a series of easy, fun activities you can do to hone Observation skills. Not only do they get you to make the most of your surroundings, but they develop creativity, which will help with visualisation techniques, writing skills and memory. You can find the 'print and go' version in our Resources section, but this blog will give more detail about why they are worth doing and on how to bring the exercises to life.
Firstly, the activities are all about active engagement with the world around you. They encourage you (and your children, obviously), to look closely at your surroundings, to really notice what is there before using them as a springboard to creative activities. Instead of taking it all for granted, in a very reactive fashion, the activities get you to take a proactive approach to Observation.
Why? Well, why not? Why wouldn't you want to enrich the experience? Making the most of your time together? The activities help you share the moment with everyone there, bringing it vibrantly alive as you engage all your senses.
There's more to it than that, though, as you might have guessed. For one thing, it's a stepping stone towards engaging the imagination. Some children already have an active imagination; others, less so. However, both groups will benefit from the activities as it 'raises their game' on the creative front.
Those who already delight in an active imagination will find that this kind of activity gives them so many new avenues to explore and adds a richness of detail to what they've been coming up with. For those who struggle with visualisation and imaginary scenarios, it gives them a chance to practise in a stress-free environment doing fun activities. The more they do them, the easier they will find it.
What they learn with these activities is transferable to their creative writing at school. The practice of directed Observation, combined with exploring the senses, will give them elements to use. This is especially true if you get them to use the Wrap and Remember Forget-Me-Not. This is where they combine the elements around them and 'save' them as a collection in their memory, ready to be brought out and used whenever they have to describe a particular scene or type of character in English. You could even get your child(ren) to keep a journal where they write up some of the descriptions, practising in words what they have done in thought and speech during the walk.
Memory works better with cues. If you can link something to something else, you have a better chance or remembering it. The more things you link it to, the more cues you will have to remind you of it, leading to better long-term recall.
The kind of observation and creative thinking central to these activities can help develop visualisation techniques, which are extremely useful tools for creating effective 'hooks' or cues to aid Memory.
All of these activities can be done in absolutely any environment. It doesn't matter whether it's a woodland walk, a stroll by the sea, mucking about by a riverside or gazing about you in an urban landscape when you’re on your way somewhere. It's how you think as a result of what you see that is key, not the original stimulus.
It can't be stressed strongly enough that there are no right or wrong answers. It's all about imaginative play - the more playful the better. Remind those taking part to use smell, hearing, touch and taste as well as sight. If need be, work your way through the senses giving an answer for each one, until the participants get into the habit of engaging all their senses fully.
Let's look at the activities more closely.
That Looks Like…
Examine the world around you, whatever that is. Is there anything in it that looks like something else?
It could be something very simple like rough bark looking like rippled sand on the beach (or should that be sand on the 'beech'?!). Engage all your senses, so as well as 'seeing' the shoreline, imagine hearing the waves crashing on the shore just beyond it, feel the damp sand between your toes, taste the salt air on your lips, smell the seaweed.
Or maybe you can see a face peering out at you from tree bark or in the shadows on the side of a building? What would it be doing? Remember, get all your senses into gear - so if you see a cat curled up in the bole of a tree, hear it purring. If you think it looks more like a curled snake then imagine its hiss or the sound of its tail rattling, feel the dry scales on its skin, or the softness of the cat's fur. If it's more of a pampered poodle or a Shih Tzu, feel the satin ribbon tying up the top-knot, smell the groomed fur that still has a hint of dog shampoo (or the dog breath!) or hear their yap or bad-tempered growl. Maybe for you it's a squirrel with a bushy tail. Remember, there are no wrong answers.
If possible, take the imaginings on a stage - what would happen next? If you think that the bole of a tree looks like a keyhole, where would it lead? What sort of key would it have? How would it feel? What would it sound like when the 'door' opened? What would you find on the other side?
That Makes Me Think Of…
Items in our surroundings might not look exactly like something, but they could trigger the thought of something else. Explore that thought.
'diamonds' in tree bark could conjure the thought of Harlequin's costume - picture the normal colours associated with it, smell or feel the greasepaint, touch the velvet mask, hear the theatrical noises (or the coughs and shuffles from the audience);
multiple trunks could make you think of a pipe organ - what is it made of? What tune is it playing? Where is it?;
rough bark could spark a memory of a map or aerial photograph of a river delta - what boats would be sailing on the river and tributaries? Can you hear the sails snapping in the wind or the chug of small boats? Can you smell the river/port? Is the water warm or cold?
Transporter or Time Machine
When you spot a sunbeam through the trees, or lighting up part of the world around you, describe it as a Matter Transporter (think space travel) or a Time Machine. The participants have to say who they think is about to appear. Ask them to give detailed descriptions of what they are like (e.g. not just ‘an alien’ but ‘an alien with purple skin, wrinkled like an elephant. It smells of burnt wood and its many tentacles are scaly and dry like a snake’). Do they 'belong' in the scene (e.g. a character from that area, but from a different time, or something/someone from a completely different universe)? What would that character do next? How would they communicate? How are they feeling (happy, sad, worried, scared, excited?)? How would they show it?
If you see a bench, a stone seat, swing or simply a tree that looks as if it’s made for sitting on, then ask participants to say who they imagine sitting there. Is it a painted lady in all her lacy frills (think 'The Swing' by Fragonard) or is it an old man feeding pigeons? Ask for detail – go through the senses, one by one, until they get the hang of it. How does their character feel? What will they do next?
Identify something in the environment around you – it could be a plant, a colour, birdsong, the feel of moss. Ask the players to say where else they’ve seen/heard/smelled/felt something similar. Does Granny have a sweater in that same shade of green? Does the feel of the moss remind them of the velvety muzzle of a pony? Does the sound of the pheasant remind them of a previous walk when a favourite relative/friend was with them? Ask them to elaborate. Tease out the detail.
From seeing things in clouds or in the shadows of a fence, to delving deeply into a rich environment, there is scope for creative thinking and visualisation when honing your Observation skills.
These activities are just a bit of fun. They are more important than that, though. They get you to make the most of the world around you, using all your senses to investigate it. The imaginative skills that you (and your children) develop, as a result, will help Memory, as well as creativity. Have a go at them and let us know how you get on.