Recently while walking to the car, my older son pointed excitedly, “Mummy, see a pied crow on that roof like the one in Gambia.” Another day it was a laughing dove and yet another it was a yellow alder. This was a plant which caught our attention in Gambia because when we were leaving for school in the morning, the beautiful yellow flowers were open and swarming with bees but by the time we returned from school, they would have closed, seemingly done with their work of feeding the bees and now taking a rest.
These recent and frequent experiences brought to my mind this quote by Dr. Montessori:
“To confer the gift of drawing we must create an eye that sees, a hand that obeys, and a soul that feels; and in this task the whole of life must cooperate. In this sense life itself is the only preparation for drawing.”
We spent a few months in The Gambia towards the end of last year. During our first weekend there we took a tour to visit some places of interest. This included a reptile farm in Kartong where we saw many kinds of snakes, chameleons, turtles tortoise and crabs. We even learned the word “Decapod” – crustaceans with ten legs. We also visited a bird sanctuary where a Pelican was being rehabilitated, and the paradise beach at Sanyang where we stumbled upon a tree filled with beautiful yellow weaver birds and their many nests.
At each location our guard pointed out things of interest, giving us the names and telling us a little about them. During the rest of our stay in Gambia, we did not have a car so we did a lot of walking and usually at the boys’ pace. This allowed us observe aspects of nature, architecture and lifestyles. The boys would notice things and we would talk about them. We were very lucky to have a set of laughing doves nest on our porch twice and we got to watch the process each time. I remember thinking about how Gambia is so wonderfully endowed with natural beauty and also pondering why my home country, Nigeria, was not as generously endowed with the same birds and flowers despite both countries being in West Africa.
We returned to Nigeria at the end of the year and something had changed. We started having experiences like the ones we had in Gambia. The boys and I started seeing many of the same birds and flowers everywhere. They had been here all along; we just never saw them.
As I contemplate this experience, I can think of some things we can do to help our children develop the eyes that Dr. Montessori describes in the quote. These are eyes that allow children to live a richer life because they begin to see and appreciate more of their surroundings.
Enriching the child’s vocabulary especially around sensorial impressions truly allows them see more. When they know the different colors, shapes and sizes they begin to notice them in their environment. When a child knows what something is called he is more likely to seek it out in his environment. We can support this by talking to the child from birth, pointing out things in the environment using clear accurate descriptive language when speaking instead of “baby talk.” When they start pointing, we provide the names of things they point to and when they enter the “what” and “why” stages, we patiently answer.
Choosing reality based books also helps enrich the child’s vocabulary and allows them to see more. There are so many books for young children based on characters or fantastical things that are not part of the child’s reality. While it is good to read to the child in general, reading reality based books has the additional impact of drawing the child’s attention and interest to things in their world. I suggest choosing books with real pictures, beautiful illustrations and stories that the child can relate to especially in the first plane (0-6 years old).
Encourage Observation and Exploration: We can do this by slowing down and providing opportunities for our children to observe and explore while also building their vocabulary. Dr Montessori spoke about taking walks with young children and going at their pace. There is so much to be discovered when we do this. We can further their exploration by playing treasure hunt games or targeted explorations (can be based on color, shape, feel, type etc.) Walks can be in your neighborhood, a hike in the wood or even a stroll down your city center. What is important is that it is slow and at the child’s pace. Observe things that are happening. If the child stops to watch a butterfly or a painter painting a wall, stop with them. Answer any questions and provide the vocabulary. If possible have some consistent routes that you follow frequently over a period of time. This allows the child to start to observe the little changes that take place over time like the changing colors of leaves, flowers blooming, a change in wall color, fewer people on the street etc. This also makes it possible for them to lead the way sometimes.
In addition to the familiar, I think it is also important to give new experiences. Travel, visit new places and try new experiences. Go to an art gallery, the zoo, museum, a concert, fair, take a train, a bus, a plane and go some where new. This really expands our horizons and really allows us see the differences and similarities that exist. They also cause our eyes to see even more when we get home. We share our many experiences on our Instagram account
Prepare the environment to encourage observation and exploration. Make it possible for your children to look out windows in your home. If your windows are high, provide stable stools or stairs that they can stand on. Provide binoculars, magnifying glasses, local guide books and a nature table or some kind of container for finding treasures found while exploring
Remove distractions and obstacles to seeing: There are so many distractions that keep our eyes from seeing these days. The top one would be phones, iPads, televisions and other entertainment technologies. Whether at home or on the road, these should be avoided or at least minimized, especially in the first plane of development (0-6). Car rides provide a great opportunity to drink in the fast changing world outside our windows. Think about how many times children ask you puzzling questions during a car ride, it is a great time for observation and conversation. I always smile when I think about choosing my car. I bought my car before discovering Montessori and having children, but I was already thinking about starting a family and the many road trips we would take (I love traveling!) so I made sure to choose a car with a DVD player and a screen at the back that the children could watch. What a waste! Our car rides are for looking out the windows, making discoveries, having conversations, singing and just seeing. Save yourself the money and don’t make the same mistake.
Having too many toys can also become a distraction even if they are educational a toys. Minimize toys and give your children a chance to be bored. There are so many discoveries to be made during times of boredom.
Model a love for “seeing” and discovery:
Inevitably, children will do what you do and not necessarily what you say. Parents must develop a desire to explore all the things hidden in plain sight, this is a learned skill that gets keener and translate to the children. I remember while one day while waiting for the bus in Perugia, I noticed a bird in the tree above is building a nest. I pointed it out to Solu and we watched it until our bus came and every day after that until one day when it rained heavily and we didn’t see the bird any more. The next day, we were walking back home through another route and he excitedly pointed out a bird’s nest on the floor. It was a different one which must have been blown of a tree during the rain. Had his consciousness not already been drawn to nest before, he would not have noticed it.
At the end of each day, make it a habit to talk about some of the things you saw. This brings it back to the child’s consciousness and allows them ask any more question and just discuss further. It is always interesting to hear what made an impression on the child each day. “What did you see today” “what did you discover today” “Do you remember our walk? What do you remember about it?” Use open ended prompts and the guide the conversation. You can also start by sharing what you saw and what made an impression on you.
Let us raise children with eyes that see and help them see the beauty of our world remembering that…
The Understanding and Supporting your Toddler Course is still open for registration until May 1st. I hope you do join us!