In a passage that has echoed in my head many times since I read it, Annie Dillard says,
"There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But- and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny?...But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.
I used to be able to see flying insects in the air. I'd look ahead and see, not the row of hemlocks across the road, but the air in front of it. My eyes would focus along that column of air, picking out flying insects. But I lost interest, I guess, for I dropped the habit. Now I can see birds. Probably some people can look at the grass at their feet and discover all the crawling creatures. I would like to know grasses and sedges- and care. Then my least journey into the world would be a field trip, a series of happy recognitions."
-From Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Seeing as ArtI love that A.D. speaks about seeing as an art that must be cultivated and practiced. Certainly the decision about whether or not to acquire the skill is a personal one, but I wonder if sometimes as parents we impede the development of the "healthy poverty" needed to really see things by overstimulating.
On the other hand, I wonder if by asking questions about what children see and then being truly excited to hear the answers, we might encourage them to become observant and eager when they look at nature.
Send Them on a MissionHere are thirteen "missions" you can send your children on to help them learn to "see" and to love being outdoors. Of course, they just scratch the surface. There are many, many more, including some that would be dependent on the area of the country where you live and the time of year. The ones I've chosen, however, are pretty generic- things that might be seen in just about any neighborhood or backyard.
You'll want to send them on just one mission at a time so they can focus. And you'll want to warn them that some of the missions are more difficult than others and that some might require a lot of patience from them. If your children are confident that you will be a careful listener to all of their adventures when they return, however, you might be surprised at how patient and thorough they are willing to be.
Outdoor Mission Ideas1. Find your yard's best hiding spot for bugs. What kinds of bugs were there?
2. How many spider webs can you find? How many have spiders in them? How many had caught something for the spider to eat?
3. Collect as many different kinds of seeds as you can find. Don't forget to remember what kind of plant they grow into.
4. Find something interesting for us to place as our centerpiece on the table for dinner tonight.
5. Imagine you were two inches tall. What would be the most fun spot in your yard? In your neighborhood?
6. How many things can you find in the yard that can be picked up by a magnet?
7. How many squirrels can you see? Were any of them chattering? Could you figure out why?
8. Can you find any feathers in your yard? If so, what kind of bird do you think they came from? From what part of the bird's body?
9. Find 5 clouds that look like animals.
10. How many different kinds of tiny plants grow in the grassy area of our yard? Do any of them have flowers?
11. Do a tree investigation. Can you find any trees with roots poking up through the ground? Any with roots pushing up through the cement in the sidewalk? Do you see any baby trees shooting up from the stumps of bigger trees?
12. Find an ant hill. What kinds of things will the ants carry into their hole if you drop them nearby? What is the biggest sized object they can carry?
13. In what places in the backyard are you most likely to see a bird? Do they have favorite trees/ roosts, pieces of grass? Why do you think the birds choose those spots?