Developing a child’s observational skills is an important first step in science education. As students make observations, they are learning to collect and organize information. Observation leads to questions, which are the basis of inquiry. Questions lead to a search for answers by making inferences, and then using more detailed observations and actual experiments to see if the inferences are true. Science is all about finding out “why.”
We tend to think of observation as looking at something, but observing really involves all of the senses. We experience life using all five senses: seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting. Think about how young babies explore by putting everything into their mouths to taste it. Be sure to actively engage all of your child’s senses as he discovers the world around him.
Try the following activity. Blindfold your child. Then bring out a plate with three or four different fruits. Try to have a couple of fruits that are similar in size and shape, like a plum and an apple, a peach and an orange, or a blueberry and a grape. Hand your child one fruit at a time and ask them to describe it. How does it feel? Is it smooth, rough, fuzzy, hard, soft? How does it smell? What shape is it? What details can they tell you? Is it heavy or light? Does it have a stem? Can they guess what it is? The last step, of course, would be to taste it. As you do this activity, your child is learning about “properties.” These are the common attributes that objects have, such as color, shape, texture, and size. Make a list of different properties as you learn to observe things. Some properties may require experimenting to observe, such as finding out if an object can float.
We tend to rely more on our visual skills. But even our visual skills can be sharpened to observe more than just the obvious. A keen observer notices the details. Size, shape, color, etc. are basic information. Does the object have a pattern to it? Are there any special features? Gradually, focus on smaller details. Using a magnifying glass can offer a whole new dimension to an object. You can see features that you might otherwise overlook.
Sorting objects involves both observation and classification. It can further enhance a child’s observation skills because the child must compare features and determine different categories for grouping the items. The following activity is from our new coral reef CD and involves sorting fish according to different features. You can download and print the directions and fish pictures from the Teaching Resources page on our website. Encourage your child to find as many different ways as possible to sort the fish.
For young children, the world is still new. They often see things that we overlook. Give them suggestions of different ways to look at something, but also encourage them to come up with their own ideas. They may surprise you!