Today I’d like to share with you an engaging activity to help children improve their observation skills and deepen their understanding of nature. It is inspired by one of my favorite books for teaching children about the world’s great artists and their work: An Eye for Art. For painter Joan Miro, manipulating and using color came naturally but he struggled with form. One of his teachers encouraged him to practice drawing common objects based only on his sense of touch. He could not look at the objects but rather was asked to spend time feeling them and examining their shape, texture, size, etc. and then drawing them based on only on those physical sensations. Sort of like a reverse of blind contour drawing (an effective exercise for learning to draw what you see).
Here’s how it works: Choose a found object from nature that is safe for children to touch. Place that object in a bag that your child cannot see through. Ask your child to reach in and feel the object without peeking. Prompt him to think about it’s texture, size, and shape. Is it smooth or rough? Ridged? Scaly? Do all sides have the same texture? Is it thin, long, pointy? Is it soft or hard?
Once your child has enough information to visualize the object it’s time to put pencil to paper and try to capture the object’s image in a drawing. Allow your child to feel the object again as he draws. Remind him of the details that he noticed through his sense of touch and to incorporate them into the drawing. The level of details that your child notices will support the accuracy of the drawing. Once the drawing is complete your child may like to take the object out and compare it to the drawing. At this point, my children wanted to add a second drawing of the object by looking at it. They enjoyed comparing them.
(Note: This activity is recommended for ages 7 and up but don’t hesitate to try it at a younger age. You know your child and what they are capable of. Toddlers and preschool-age children may enjoy “feely bags” – just feeling and identifying the object from nature. This simple activity will strengthen your child’s tactile perception, which is a great precursor to touch drawing.)
My children enjoyed this unique way of observing nature and we plan to practice it regularly in our nature journals (a great addition to any nature journal!). It was very effective for getting us all to really notice details that we may have overlooked otherwise. My oldest daughter was amazed to see that through her sense of touch she thought the pine cone had smaller scales and more of them. I’m curious to see how my children’s tactile perception, skills of observation, and touch drawings evolve over time.