Stop, look, think: easy ways to sharpen kids’ observation skills

Noticing our surroundings is important to safety, but helping kids learn to really see details can also help build curiosity, creativity, and concentration. Some kids—and grown-ups, too—are more observant than others, but powers of observation can be practiced and improved just as any other skill, and they are important.

Lynne Kearney, writing for ShareCare, notes that “Teaching your children how to be keen observers is a gift they will use for a lifetime.” She suggests playing an observation game similar to Where’s Waldo, calling it “What do you see?” Begin with a straightforward description and then add details. For example, you can say, “I see a woman buying flowers, and she can’t quite decide which ones.” Your child might offer, “I see a baby in a stroller. He’s crying. Maybe he’s hungry.” Taking observation to the next step aids in developing empathy, sequencing, classification, cause-and-effect identification, and more.

Here are a few other quick and easy ideas for getting kids observing and thinking.

Homeward Bound – Take a walk with your child to look for places where animals and insects live. Encourage your child to look in trees, in ponds, and in plants. Ask him or her to describe how each creature’s home was made and which creature lives inside.

Creative Endings – Invite your child to create an original ending to a familiar story. Encourage imagining what would happen if the characters made different decisions or if other story events changed. Your child could draw a picture to accompany the new story.

Eat Smart – Build kids’ nutrition awareness by asking them to list all of the different plants (or plant-based material!) they eat in one day. For instance, bread comes from wheat, lemonade is made from lemons, and French fries come from potatoes.

Natural Order – Nature creates patterns in plants, animals, and more. Go on a walk in the park, on a trail, or around the neighborhood. Ask your child to look for things in nature that are in groups of three or five. For example, the points on a maple leaf and the parts of an ant’s body are patterns.

Summer Riddles – Encourage thinking about summer—its weather, plants, activities, and so on. Then take turns making up riddles about the season. For example, “I’m a summer flower. I have thorns. What am I?” Your riddles may be oral or written. If you write them, help kids use correct capitalization and punctuation. This activity will also reinforce listening skills.

Matching games can also enhance a child’s observational skills. Two apps that do exactly that are Memory Match Jr. and Memory Match. Touch any tile to “turn it over” and see the picture, and touch another tile to find a match. Try and remember what’s where for more matches. Kids can compete with a friend in two-player mode or play against a built-in opponent. In the non-jr. version the game ups the challenges with three levels of play and pairings: Animal to Baby Animal, Picture to Beginning Letter, and Picture to Three-Letter Word.

Seeing the details around us increases both our wonder in and our understanding of the world around us—big advantages at any age!