Teaching Our Children to Be “Passionate Observers”

I wanted to share with you today one of my main goals in teaching my children at home.  Have you noticed how little attention most adults and older children give to the beautiful world we live in?  Maybe you have heard someone say, as I did once, “I’ve seen trees before.  Where’s the mall?”  That complaint was made while we were driving through some of the most beautiful mountains in Utah.  I believe that many people in our world would agree with that sentiment, however.  One of my goals as a mother, then, has been to help my children to retain their natural sense of wonder and to really observe and appreciate the beauty of the natural world.  To steal the words of naturalist Jean Henri Fabre, I would like them always to be “Passionate Observers.”

Anyone who has watched a toddler watch an ant knows that kids are born with natural powers of intent observation.  Soon, though, most kids feel they already “know everything” about ants, and aren’t interested in observing them (or anything else) anymore.  How can we help children to continue to be interested in the world around them as they grow older?

  1. Really look at common things.  For example, the big black bird we see all the time in the Walmart parking lot caught our interest by the noisy talking it did while we were waiting in the car one day.  Instead of forgetting about it, we came home and found its name in a bird book. The common grackle has a very unique way of using its tail as a rudder.  Next time we went to Walmart, we did some wildlife watching in the parking lot.
  2. Slow down.  Observation takes time.  Walk slowly.  Take time to sit on a rock during your next hike and look at the things that are going on around you.
  3. Share your own observations.  While walking or driving with your children, ask, “Did you see that bird?”  or, “Was that a hawk that just flew over?”  Your children will imitate your enthusiasm.
  4. Listen to their observations. Instead of stopping an excited narration with, “Yes, I know,” let your child tell you all about the thing he has been observing.  When he is finished, maybe ask a question or two that will prompt more or more careful observation to continue.
  5. Don’t allow material things to dominate family life.  While going to movies, playing video games and shopping may have their place, they should not be the center of our entertainment. Humans need the natural world for mental health.  Take time to be outdoors regularly and often.

Reading books by and about amateur naturalists can really inspire kids to look at nature.  Picture books for younger kids are easy to find at the local library.  We also enjoy read-alouds on this subject.  Some books we have enjoyed reading include:

  • Books by Farley Mowat.  Especially for kids include Owls in the Family and The Dog Who Would not Be, but equally wonderful are Never Cry Wolf and A Whale for the Killing.
  • A Passionate Observer by Jean Henri Fabre.
  • Secrets of the Nest by Joan Dunning
  • Books by Gerrald Durrell, including My Family and Other Animals; Birds, Beasts and Relatives; and A Zoo in my Luggage.

As I continue to work toward this goal, I am excited to see my kids really look at the world around them and express their appreciation for the beautiful things they see.  I am determined to continue working toward the goal of being “Passionate Observers.”

How do you help your kids maintain their interest in the natural world?  Please leave me a comment.

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  1. Lisa S

     /  April 2, 2012

    The mall comment made me remember a comment we heard in Yellowstone last summer. We were walking along the canyon trail and stopping at the various viewpoints along the way. At most of the stops you could see the falls, but at one you couldn’t. As we stood there enjoying the beautiful colors of the canyon, the rock formations, the trees, the birds and just the whole scene, another family came up. They walked quickly to the observation point and the mom said something about a picture. Dad’s reply was “There’s nothing to take a picture of here.” No waterfall, remember. That really struck us as funny. For the rest of our trip that was our catchphrase. We’d see something along a trail to our destination and get sidetracked for a few minutes, then someone would say “Well , yes, but it’s nothing to take a picture of.” And we’d all laugh and feel a little sorry for the family who on the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone couldn’t find something to take a picture of.

  2. Fish Out of Water

     /  April 2, 2012

    Great post! This is such an important skill to learn and it’s so often viewed as wasting time. We have had an abundance of caterpillar activity in our yard the past few days. We usually try to look them up in our bug book or on the internet so that we can properly identify what moth or butterfly it will become. We’ve all really enjoyed it and learned a lot from it.

  3. Love this and sharing it!

  4. This is far from a strength of mine. We do love our apple tree outside our living room window and enjoy looking up the birds that stop by. Having different pets, even small ones (toad, fish, bird) has piqued our curiosity and appreciation for animal behavior. I do work at slowing down to appreciate the beauty around me.


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