Observation as sensory skills

One basic skill to learn about nature and natural phenomena is observation. Observation can often be confused with labelling what you notice around you. But it is much more than that!

In an observation the observer uses all the senses actively. The child can see, hear, smell, feel and taste the object/phenomenon that is in focus. The child needs guiding when she develops her observational skills from observing her everyday world to a more scientific observation. 

Eberbach & Crowley (2009) operate with four core observational skills: Noticingexpectationsobservation records and productive dispositions. In this video we explain how you can recognise these skills and apply the knowledge of how children observe in your dialogues with children about scientific topics:

How children observe

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In all these skills, the children can expand their observational skills from novice to expert. Sharing the experience and talking about your observations will help and enhance this development. Children do notice the world around them – for example a bird. As a novice they recognise that birds are different from other organisms. To become more scientific in their observations, they need to notice what features (e.g. beak, feet, colour) are relevant and how these features are connected to the way of life of a given species (e.g. food, habitat) or divide the birds into different groups. 

The children’s expectations about their observations will initially be vague, and to observe more scientifically their expectations need to be more explicit. The way the observation records are done will develop from no records at all or remembering some facts into more systematic records and comparison between various types of data.

Developing a productive disposition takes time, and it starts with an interest in the moment. To nourish such observations, we can take the children to a museum, for a walk in the woods, read a book or intentionally talk about an observation.

It all starts with noticing! Use of how- and why-questions can be a useful way to make children observe more scientifically.