Observation is one of the cornerstones of any good scientific process. All good scientists know they need to look closely at things to work out how they work or notice minute changes if they're conducting an experiment. They have learnt how to be observant.
"Observation is essential in science. Scientists use observation to collect and record data, which enables them to construct and then test hypotheses and theories." (Science Learning Hub)
Today I'd like to share with you one way we've been fostering observance in our home education through natural sciences. Many children have a natural interest in the outdoors, in nature and animals. Fostering this interest and using it to encourage careful observation is an excellent way to encourage your children's scientific tendencies.
What this means for us is many different things. It may be spending time by the riverside or at the beach. It might be leaf collecting or painting tulips, going bird watching or star gazing. All these activities cultivate not only great observation skills but our children's sense of wonder.
The activity I'd like to share today is botanical drawing. That sounds fancy but round here it mostly means taking time to draw, colour and paint plants and flowers.
- Nature journal or paper. We like water colour weight paper best either in notebooks or loose leafed. We also love water colour postcards.
- Drawing pencils
- Coloured pencils or felt tip pens or watercolour paints. The latter are our favourites because we're big fans of botanical books and they're often illustrated with watercolours.*
- A frame or things to mark out a square (we used four barbecue skewers)
Method 1 Nature Trail
- Take turns to be the guide. The first guide leads everyone to a plant or flower of their choice.
- Everyone draws the flower or plant.
- Take time to observe the details, the shapes of the leaves or petals.
- Add colour.
- Once everyone has finished, the next guide leads them to a new flower or plant.
Observing and drawing flora and fauna has been part of education for centuries. Keep your eyes peeled for examples in old books, on postcards and tea towels. Or in Cecily Mary Barker's delightful and accurate Flower Fairies Books.
This activity encourages children through art to explore flora and fauna. Drawing activates our observational skills in a different way to photography for example or using words.
Method 2 Make a Scientific Record of a Designated Space
- Someone picks a spot (on the grass, in the soil, on the forest floor...). Place your frame on the ground.
- Record what you can see in the frame in a drawing.
- Add colour if you wish.
- This can be repeated in as many locations as you wish.
In our version the emphasis is on observing what's there and finding a way to record it. So far we haven't explored the idea of trying to tabulate this in a graph or table.
To extend this activity, grid your frame so you can be even more precise about distribution and use graph paper to make an even more accurate representation.
Be Observant Together
Children of all ages can enjoy botanical drawing. The important thing is that whichever activity you pick to do, make sure you do it with your children. Seeing you observing and drawing is the best encouragement there is!
*Matt Sewell is one of our favourite illustrators. We love his gentle water colours which make the birds seem so vivid.