What makes a person notice? What makes one person look out the window in the morning and see rain and another person look out the window and notice the exceptionally red breast of the robin trying to pull the long, stretchy worm out of the ground? Or the difference in the appearance of the cherry blossoms in spring as you travel east through Vancouver? Or the difference between happy chirping and the sound of going to war to protect young from predators? Why does the curiosity of the very young diminish as some people grow older but emerge as artistic creation or scientific discovery or unbridled joy in others?
Noticing comes easily to preschoolers. A short walk can take hours because it is punctuated with countless numbers of studies of rocks, branches, bugs, and wonderings. I have recently framed a study of birds to hone the observational skills of Kindergarten to Grade 7 students while they are doing “SchoolAtHome” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teaching kids to be observers in a face-to-face context is nothing less than joyful. Discovery is exciting, whether you are making the discovery or watching the “eureka” moment in child. Of course I speak with the perspective of a long time educator. In the early years of school, all we need to do is take kids outside and give them time. To look. To listen. To smell. To touch. To note changes over time. Adding a few open-ended questions sends them deeper into their observational studies. More focused attention from the obvious to minute detail evolves when you teach older children to use a ruler, a magnifying glass, a set of binoculars, a camera or an iPad with picture and video capacity and provide a format for observations. Encouragement to make anecdotal notes with drawings of observations unleashes creativity.
When I was little girl, I lived close to Jericho Beach by a big vacant lot. I called it “The Baking Lot”. It made sense because all of the neighbourhood kids went to make mud pies and squish in the mud. We rescued our rubber boots when they were sucked off our feet. We caught tadpoles, frogs, butterflies and bugs. We braved stings to capture bees and wasps in glass bottles so we could study them close up. We ventured further afield to the beach and created habitats for our collected crabs to live in. We built castles that were gobbled by insatiable waves. Our curiosity was never satisfied and our attention to detail was ever present.
When all of the older kids went off to school, Gordon, John and I were left behind to continue our explorations under the supervision of their mother. This opened up another world of discovery to me. The world of “boy” toys. Growing up in the 60’s with an older sister limited my world to dolls, and fancy dresses. Now I was able to explore the world of Hot Wheels and pedal cars. Outdoor observations were assisted with Tonka Trucks as we excavated the land for new bug habitats in the backyard. We got very dirty and it was all very acceptable and even encouraged.
John and I both emerged into adulthood, still curious and still friends with the unconditional acceptance of tight knit families. In fact for many years, my kids thought we were related. John’s curiosity took him into a fascination with antiquity, a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Classical Studies and a Diploma in Fine Arts. My curiosity pushed me to try new things like snow skiing, water skiing, snowboarding, canoeing, hiking, biking, travel, meeting new people and developing interesting relationships. I emerged with a Bachelor of Education Degree, a Master of Arts Degree in Education with continued diplomas and credentials in language, Special Education, leadership and management.
Both John and I continue to be friends. Our differences are more readily apparent than our similarities. He fits the typical mold of an introvert. I fit the typical mold of an extrovert. Both of us are voracious readers and lovers of language. We are definitely mourning the loss of Bard on the Beach this season due to the COVID-19 restriction on large gatherings. John’s thinking is clarified through listening, reading, art and the lens of a camera. His understanding of the world is most often communicated in cartoons, paintings and photographs. My thoughts are formed through listening, reading, writing, talking (to myself, to a series of family dogs, to kids, to adults) and through writing. My thinking is expressed through language. Yet our biggest similarity is that both of us continue to notice. There is no doubt that asking questions has led both of us down paths to find the answers that matter to us. It has been important to our learning but it has also been important to how we experience joy in our lives. Noticing details changes how we experience the world.
Our paths have recently converged once again. His fancy new camera has focused his attention on capturing the solar system, birds, flowers, the ocean – everything nature. His mode of communicating his learning – posting the images on Facebook with the name of each bird and observations. I have channeled his learning into the challenge of teaching observational skills to students online, entice kids to go outside daily for physically distanced activity, and help them to experience joy and gratitude during this tumultuous time. He has indulged me with setting up a Twitter account @JStCPatrick to tweet out his posts on birds so I can retweet them @LivingstoneVSB and Wild About Vancouver @WildAboutVan. I hope the sounds, scenes and details about our local birds will pique the interest of my students at Livingstone Elementary. And of course, I am thinking this may be a future book that John and I co-author.
We all have opportunities to take a closer look. When we pause to do it, often that is when the discoveries and experiences that mattered most in our lives happen. It requires a concerted effort to invest the time and create the space to notice the details. It guarantees learning, joy in the experience and a sense of gratitude for all that is amazing. For John and I, it has made all the difference.