Activity time: 15 minutes
Materials for Activity
- Everyday items from nature such as tree leaves or branches, a nautilus or other shell, potted plants, cut flowers, sunflower heads, pinecones, or a pineapple
- Tools participants can use to investigate the objects and pictures, such as a magnifying glass, microscope, tweezers, and toothpicks
- At least two trays (one or more to hold items for examination, one or more to hold the tools) and a cloth cover for every tray
- Newsprint, markers, and tape
- Optional: Pictures of natural scenes such as stars in a night sky, a colorful sunset or images of naturally occurring crystals (such as snowflakes) or fractal patterns
- Optional: A small, caged pet, e.g., a bird, reptile, or hamster
Preparation of Activity
- Obtain enough natural objects and tools for all participants to have the opportunity to examine an object on their own.
- Before participants arrive, prepare one or more trays with the natural objects, and one or more trays with tools. Cover the tray(s) with cloth to maintain mystery.
- If you have brought large natural objects, large pictures, or a pet for this activity, set them out of sight for now.
- Set the trays on a table around which everyone can gather.
- Optional: If possible, along with the natural objects, provide images of natural phenomena you cannot bring into the room such as snow, sunsets or crystals. Look for images that will reward close examination.
- Optional: You might bring a small pet that lives in a portable cage/terrarium, for participants to observe. However, first ask the adult owner whether it would be safe, appropriate, and humane for participants to observe the pet closely in this setting. Check with all participants’ parents to ensure no one has an allergy, fear, or other issue that makes this a bad idea.
Description of Activity
This activity invites participants to pay close attention. The skill of looking closely leads them to find their own capacity for experiencing the mysterious and the wonderful, and develops their sense of awe.
If participants have been sitting in a circle for a while, a quick stretching activity may be a good idea. Then gather the group around the table where you have placed the trays. Invite participants to get ready to “look with absolute attention.” You may want to explain that “absolute attention” means we are doing nothing but paying attention; say that “careful attention” and “close attention” are expressions that mean almost the same thing.
Remove the cloth cover(s) to reveal the natural objects. Say, in your own words:
A jumble of items can be difficult to observe with care. Each of you will have a chance to look with close attention at a single item, using some tools that may help.
Uncover the tools. Briefly name the tools and say they are tools scientists use to observe the natural world. Ask participants for their ideas about how they might use the tools for close observation. Mention any concerns or rules you have. You may want to set limits on tactile, “invasive” observation that could damage an item.
If you have concealed a live pet or large natural objects or pictures for observation, present them now. Set them carefully where you want participants to observe them. Share any rules for observing a live pet or any fragile objects.
Carefully distribute objects and tools from the trays to a few tabletop stations. Form small groups at the stations. Invite participants to spend the next few minutes carefully and closely investigating, without harming, one or two objects. Encourage participants to select a single object and spend their time observing it on their own. Ask those observing in groups to keep conversation at whisper-level.
With five minutes left in this activity, ask participants to replace the items and tools on the trays. Gather the group. Invite individuals to report on what they observed, how they observed it, and what they noticed. Now ask:
- What is different about looking at a common, everyday item with close attention? Did anything surprise you?
- When you see more detail, does it make you feel more or less of a sense that something is miraculous? Why?
Affirm all responses. Thank the participants for practicing the skill of looking with close attention.
Including All Participants
Encourage use of multiple senses—sound, touch, and smell as well as vision. Especially if the group includes visually impaired people, avoid implying that “observing” can only be accomplished by literally “looking,” “seeing,” etc. Place items and tools for tactile observation directly into a non-sighted person’s hand.