Preserving Time for Children to Observe Their World


Last week, we went on a hike with a few friends. While we were getting ready to start our walk, a couple of children played nearby, greeting each other and chatting. A friend offhandedly mentioned that her son ” . . .  is an observer”  after he declined an invitation to play with a stick my daughter offered him.


In infancy, being observant is considered a desirable trait. Children are lauded for taking notice of the world around them. As they grow and become capable of taking more action, our expectations of them change. Being observant and watching becomes less praised and, even less often, fostered.


As as teacher/student, I have had entire assignments dedicated to teaching us adults how to observe. Books, articles, tips, and handouts have been written to assist me in learning to do something that once came naturally to me – observation.


Observation is a state of quiet and focused attention that cannot occur when the mind is in motion. The less you do, the more you observe. Start with a calm peaceful atmosphere and let your mind tune into the present. Clear your head. Let all your senses awaken. rid yourself of preconceived notions. To observe means to be open and detached so you can see the situations more clearly. An observer must quiet down and let go of prejudices.” – Your Self-Confident Baby (Gerber & Johnson)


I was thinking about this as I watched Greysen and a group of her friends go on a walk that day. My mission: look for natural materials that we can collect and use as play things at home. Greysen’s mission? It turns out that she had many. Only one (the food related one) I could have predicted.


Noticed a butterfly


If I had articulated my plan of looking for rocks, to her maybe she would have found more rocks. I also could have probably thrown in some comments about weight, size, texture, or any number of interesting attributes that would have made great emergent lessons in math.


Instead, I walked. I listened.  I watched. Sometimes I responded to the observations she was making. In addition to learning more about rocks (a current interest of hers), she also experienced some lessons in trails, negotiation of scarce resources (AKA snacks), and balance.  Fantastic and interesting lessons in math were lost, but time to revel in observation was preserved.



I’m grateful for the freedom to support Greysen and Moon’s learning in the manner of my choosing. If, however, I needed to organize their learning to achieve specific outcomes, as may schools who have state curriculums to follow do, I would have likely chosen a top-down approach to our learning experience.


Teaching Greysen about rocks would not have given her the same information that she has learned by picking them up, walking over them, tossing, and touching them. Observations and experiences have taught her lessons that I would have overlooked. For instance, Greysen said that the rock was hot from the sun. By catching that one observation, I now know that Greysen has some understanding of the sun’s ability to radiate heat.  The heat warms the earth, and thus the rock in her hand.


Sometimes the most important lesson is the one you refrain from teaching. What started as a walk full of potential lessons for my daughter also became a lesson for me. The time to observe and the space to experience life in the way that comes naturally to children is as valuable as all the information we hope to share.


 Do you think there are other valuable skills besides observation that young children are strong in but that we need to work at maintaining as we age?

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