Thursday, July 3, 2014

Study & Reflection: Developing Observation Skills

One autumn several years ago, my friend, Candy, and I were encouraged by this inspiring article to begin our own rendition of Study & Reflection.  Known affectionately as S&R, it's become a time for the two of us to keep connected while seeking to grow in our knowledge of God, His ways and His world.  Our plan has been to choose a topic and then spend 4-6 weeks studying and reading individually on it.  The two of us then meet for an afternoon of comparing notes - sharing and delighting in our discoveries.  From 19th century poetry to caregiving and giving care to the roles of faith and creativity in art, we have exalted in finding Him in all sorts of places.

Each topic study looks a little different in the way we've chosen to explore it.  For our poetry study, Candy provided a list of suggested poems from a literature class her children attended.  Before our meeting, we each read and examined the poems and later shared our findings.  Our caregiving and art topics were explored through book studies (Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring by Andi Ashworth and Breath for the Bones - Art, Imagination and Spirit: A Reflection on Creativity and Faith by Luci Shaw).  Assigned chapters were read on our own and then discussed at our meetings.  And each subject is studied for as long as we like and then we move into another agreed-upon topic.

Our current study looks very different than any of the others.  Using How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith as our inspiration, we've been participating in various "scavenger hunts" to develop our observation skills.  The book is a text that Candy's son used in an art class, and it's got scads of interesting activities and projects to help one learn to be a better observer of the world around them.  In preparing of our meeting, we brainstorm a short list of items that we're to "hunt for" on our own and, in the process, hone our senses.  We each make notes and collect items to bring to our meeting and share our findings.  Below I've included our last three lists.  Perhaps they'll inspire you to begin developing your own observation skills and enable you to get a clearer and wider view of God's amazing handiwork in color, beauty and detail.  You could also use the ideas to incorporate into a homeschooling study for art, science, etc.

List #1
Collect the following items:
* An overheard story
* Something that is, or was, meaningful to someone else
* A smell
* Something that is blue
* A stray piece of paper
* A new world and how you used it in conversation and writing

List #2
* Take a photo of a pattern and make a sketch of it
* Bring a food to sample that is new to us
* Find an articificial sound that resembles something from nature OR something from nature that resembles an artificial sound
* Identify, research and share your findings of a plant
* Share a fun memory from childhood
* Come up with an analogy or word picture that helps explain a spiritual concept
* Fill an egg box with a dozen tiny treasures and explain each one at the meeting

List #3
* Share a new habit that you'd like to work at implementing in your life and examples of how you go about doing so
* Identify, research and share your findings of an item from nature
* Create a simple collage made of your choice of materials
* Share a word that has a fascinating history
* Take a photo of something or someone in relation to a face
* Ask someone (preferably an older person) a question about their lives in the past
* Find 5 yellow items

The author of How to Be an Explorer of the World came up with the following insightful and inspiring list of tips on becoming a good observer of life around us.  I made a copy and keep it tucked in the back flap of my Bible cover to pull out from time to time - it helps me to live life fuller.

1.)  Always be looking.  (Notice the ground beneath your feet.)

2.)  Consider everything alive & animate.

3.)  Everything is interesting.  Look closer.

4.)  Alter your course often.

5.)  Observe for long durations (and short ones).

6.)  Notice the stories going on around you.

7.)  Notice patterns.  Make connections.

8.)  Document your findings (field notes) in a variety of ways.

9.)  Incorporate indeterminancy.  (I had to look this word up.  Indeterminate:  not precisely determined; vague; not known in advance.)

10.)  Observe movement.

11.)  Create a personal dialogue with your environment.  Talk to it.

12.)  Trace things back to their origins.

13.)  Use ALL of the senses in your investigations.


Lori in Texas said...

Julie, I can't thank you enough for this blog post. I think I will, like you, copy this and put it in my journal, to take out and look at often. As a past art teacher and homeschool advisor in art/creative writing, how I would love to have had this book to glean from. I guided very much by this same pathway -- e.g. unlike our seeing 4-5 colors of green in the tree leaves, van gogh seeing 104-105 shades of green (one reason he kinda went crazy?) -- and hope I inspired learners to be able to SEE and not just briefly look.
But, alas, I've been out of teaching for a few years and could really use this inspiration. As usual, I will quickly search down your recommended book. I always benefit so much by you telling me about good books!
I will also pray I will have an opportunity to have a friend like your Candy to have sweet fellowship over books/ideas such as you described. Thanks for explaining it so well.
Your friend, Lori

Julie said...

I can't tell you how glad I was to read your comment! I do so want others to be able to learn to really SEE all of life. I think it's part of what Jesus meant when He said that He wanted us to have a full life of joy. God has graciously grown my desire and ability over the years to really SEE. It has so grown my vision of Him. As for a friendship like that I have with Candy, I would hope that God would bless you with such. She is my comrade-in-arms in our "magnificent obsession" with our mind-blowing God. If you and I never meet this side of eternity, I'll be sure to introduce the two of you when we get Home.

Julie said...


OOPS! Forgot some things. First of all, thanks for sharing about Van Gogh's amazing color ability - I never knew that!! Also, with your background, I would love it if you shared with me a short list of ideas for Candy and I to do in regard to art projects for our scavenger hunts. We just want really simple ideas to add to the other stuff on our lists (like the collage, for example, in list #3). If you don't have time or would rather not, no problem or pressure at all! Just thought I'd pick your creative brain!!