Five Ways to Develop the Habit of Observation -Guest Post by Katherine Prince

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Five Ways to Develop the Habit of Observation

By Katherine Prince


I remember sitting outside my parent’s South Dakota ranch house one humid day a few summers back, and just being amazed at the endless sea of clouds that were slowly moving through the sky, like a herd of buffalo.I always prayed that I would not end up living in the flat boringness of the midwest, but as I watched the huge marshmallow puffs roll by, showing their own unique shape, I thought, this almost makes up for the lack of terrain.

I also realized how relaxing it was to watch them. Sitting for long minutes, carefully watching the tiny wisps evaporate into the high sky took me to a sedated state that I had all but forgotten about.

I made a mental note that I ought to do this more often- that is, if we ever get clouds like this in San Diego.

Flash forward a few years to when I first stumbled across Ms Mason’s approach to education…

I fell in love with the idea of cultivating the habit of observation. It seemed so…refreshing. Her philosophy seemed to be the much-needed remedy to our over-crowded schedules and racing thoughts. I immediately was a follower and sought out a plan to implement her ideas into our family’s life.

True to my Type-A personality, , I made a list of Ms Mason’s habits and ways I could implement them into my kids’ education (like, really, who does that????). When I came across ‘Habit of Observation’,  watching clouds came to mind.

Charlotte Mason was keen on focusing on nature, but the habit of observation can be used far beyond nature walks and school years.

How about the painfully shy person at the party? Or the woman in the parking lot who is struggling to  open her trunk with one hand? Or perhaps the subtle note of despair or sadness in somebody’s comment? If we develop the perception to see these things, we have the opportunity to speak life into other people when they need it the most. Well said!

Observing things comes down to slowing down to notice the small things. The quiet things. Or even the forgotten things. We are often looking for that satisfying feeling in doing things, when in reality, there are treasures hidden right in front of us, only to be seen if we would slow down and watch.

Perhaps you whole-heartedly believe in the benefits of this habit, but you don’t quite know where to begin. Our family has far from mastered the art of observation, but I have discovered some unique and fun ways to cultivate this habit in our lives.

Here are 5 activities you can incorporate into your life to develop the habit of observation:

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5 Ways  to Develop a Habit of Observation


1. The Quietest Sound

I learned this practice when I was in massage school, and I found it dually helpful in preserving my own sanity and my children’s listening skills. Have your kids sit in a comfy spot, close their eyes, and simply listen and notice the sounds around them. Challenge them to find the quietest sound in your house. Be sure to turn off fast paced things like a TV or radio. Practice this a few times a week.

2.  Color walk

Next time you go on a nature walk, challenge them to find an item that covers each color of the rainbow. It doesn’t have to be something collectible. Perhaps a red stop sign or a yellow fire hydrant. You can also change this to shapes or something more complex. You can of course alter this to fit your child’s cognitive ability or interests.

3.  What’s Different?

Before you go on your next outing, ask your kids to keep their eye out for anything different. Perhaps they will notice a construction zone, or some new trees that have been planted.  You can even practice this inside on a rainy day by purposely changing some things around!

4. Silent (or foreign) children’s videos

I discovered this was a brilliant tool when I was practicing my own french skills. I would put on a french children’s video and the kids would begin watching. They had no idea what was being said, but they were intensely watching the characters “body language” and what was happening. Amazingly, they began to decode the plot, just by watching. You can also do this with english cartoons of course and turn off the sound. Ask your children open ended questions at the end of a short video like “what happened in the video?”. Your kids may also begin to learn some new words.

5.  Be an art detective

I began showing my kids small Mary Cassat art postcards for art study. I felt my kids would be drawn to the children and mothers she chose as her subjects. I began to think, who were these people? What were they talking about? I challenged my kids to be detectives, to try to answer the who, what, why, when, and where questions of the postcard. This will really help them pay attention to the minute details of a painting, such as what book is on the subject’s nightstand or what their clothes reveal about their life. Going to art museums will never be the same!

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