Accuity of Observation
I remember my first visit to AT&T Park for a Giants game in their new home. As I came through the tunnel into stadium, I bowed my head with glee knowing that I no longer needed a stash of 10 blankets to make it through a night game. Candlestick, you served us well but you are not missed. After my moment of reverence, my eyes took in our new home. I saw the diamond, reminiscent to the Rockies’ stadium in Denver, but the seats, visual fixtures, baseball glove, Coke slide, scoreboard and pennants caught my attention because I could process them the quickest. As the night progressed and I settled into my seat, I observed what was unfamiliar and how it was designed to make the baseball game experience a good family activity.
Observation is an unsung hero which is perceived as a given but is honed from birth. A baby’s eyes cannot process figures and faces until the second month of life but still they fixate on the parents and relatives that hold them. They do this willing the connections in their brain to occur so that they will eventually be able to decipher their world. Once they are able to see, they study and imprint the visions in their mind without words to aid memory. They catalog so much under the subject, items in my world. Eventually they will put names in their catalog. Faces are round as are eyes, but eyes only come in some, not all, colors. Taste adds much to their ability observe. Vegetables taste clean and earthy. Observation and familiarization becomes a self-driven aspiration.
To gaze is to think. – Salvador Dali
The word observation gives a first response that recall visual attributes that we see, but that is only on the first pass. Steven Pinker a noted cognitive scientist, psychologist and linguist, discussed in his book How the Mind Works, that humans have a difficult time on their first pass through any new environment. Vision only takes in the known variables, much like my first moment at AT&T Park. It takes observation plus contemplation to help us understand an environment, a new toy or activity. We use observation as a go-to first response to bring us collation in every new experience.
The topic of observation came up this month because as adults in the United States, we are observing something on a grander scale than we have ever seen before. We are observing with curiosity those who are in favor of the shifting tides of our country and those who are not. As we observe, our children are observing us because there is a pronounced difference. Although a case can be made that the 2 to 3 years old are likely oblivious to changes, the 4 and 5 year olds are becoming competent with their ability to observe all parts of their world.
The reason the 4 to 5 year olds are sensing something is happening is because their observation talents are functioning more profoundly with the addition of vocabulary. This connection with experience equates an understanding — a learning. The joy of this is that you are observing this awakening within them. It is a gift to see their awareness take form. This encourages you, like their teachers, to offer more opportunities for them to become knowledgeable within their world. Some of the learning is academic but the other is fostered by curiosity within.
Curiosity that is seeded by observation adds to a child’s ability to learn. The flipping about the puzzle pieces that make up the world they inhabit. These pieces help them to understand how people interact within their environment, and, with luck, find their own niche that allows a place to call their own. Once mastery of the skills occur, the skills become familiar which encourages a new plain for them to reach for.
Observation is not only a quiet reflective experience. Observation can be active. Building something with blocks or using paste and tape can encourage wonderment about how things connect and balance. Active interaction with material demands an observation that produces an understanding without words. I recall my own sophomore chemistry class where I learned how two compounds did not respond well to one another, unfortunately that observation resulted in me blowing up the top of my lab table. Be assured that Lonna does not have your children working with unstable compounds but she does have them working on simple concepts of building and balance which provides the student much to observe and consider as they move from one job to the next. Observation, the unsung hero of the learning process.
I am unsure of the author of this, so I will say the author is Anonymous.
This produces a moment of observation that leads to contemplation.
Can You See What I See?
Every time I pick up a Walter Wick book, I think that this is the best experience for a small child. Upon a firs t introduction, they can be told to find one object at a time. As they mature, they can study the books on their own testing their own ability to ferret what their imagination believes they might find. Walter Wick understands the need to observe. This is one of many varieties of “I See” books that can interest a child’s mind. Wick’s attention to color and detail add to the wonderful subject matter of each book.
How the Mind Works
Dr. Pinker does an excellent job of laying out the principle of the mind’s working and how they develop and react within human conscious and within the world. He approaches the subject with a combination of scientific knowledge and the layman’s comprehension of the subject matter. Being a parent of a young child makes this book even that more fascinating. This book is highly accessible.
Questions for Lonna
I believe that you would agree that a large focus for an educator is your encourage of a student’s ability to observe. Through observation, a child becomes one with their world. You and the teachers take this focus a step further by observing the students becoming one with their world. This leads me to ask you to expand on the acuity of observation for the pre-school student.
If you are talking, you are not able to listen.
Teachers and parents are constantly talking and moving. Dr. Montessori was a scientist before she was an educator. The importance of observation set her method apart from others. Scientists must spend countless hours observing, taking notes and waiting. The Montessori teacher sets up a prepared environment and observes as the children explore. Through this silent observation so much is revealed.
Children are observing also. They observe each other, they observe adults and they observe the media.
When children are young their influences are, in order, parents, school, friends. During Middle School, however, this order flips and becomes, friends, school, parents. In spite of what adults want to believe, “do what I say not what I do” never works. If you tell a child reading is important but you have Bravo on all day chances are your child will not have an interest in The Western Canon. Pretending not to smoke when a child’s keen olfactory sense smells smoke on you will give the message smoking is what one does.
The other day I spoke to one of my classes about the over abundance of toys coming in from home. I said toys stay at home, we do not have toys at school. After school, head teacher Joey came into my office, “I would write an email to the parents reminding them of the toy policy, but it’s a problem when you are giving the children toys when they come into your office.”
He is right, of course. I do have a stash of little things I give to children. I had given a mixed message—no toys unless I give them to you. I went into his class the next morning and explained to the children I was not supporting Joey and Megan by supplying toys. I said, I am so sorry Joey and Megan.” Joey said, “Thank you. Lonna.”
Imagine how powerful that was. First, no toys from me will be crushing to a few, but more important, Joey and I modeled how adults make mistakes and change their thinking and behavior. We are aware of how the children are watching, observing and we try to be role models. Being a diverse group of adult role models is the best of what we do.
If a parent were to ask what have we taught their children all day, I would offer we have taught the children how to find joy in meaningful work. How to take care of each other. How to share space and convey ideas in a respectful way. How to be a part of a thriving community.
In between we have reading, writing, art, music, but most of what children learn is how to be healthy and happy humans. Dr. Montessori would be pleased by how careful we are about what the children observe. I like to think Playgroup children become humans who make great choices after careful consideration and observation.