Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mental Habit: Observation and Attention

How many times have we seen something without really seeing it? We walk past flowers and trees and insects and works of art all the time without giving them much notice. Charlotte Mason encourages us to develop the mental habit of observation and attention in our children. The following excerpt from Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series Volume 1 sets forth an example of why it is so important to help our children to cultivate the habit of both observing the world around them but also the habit of giving attention to things.
"Is little Margaret fixing round eyes on a daisy she has plucked? In a second, the daisy will be thrown away, and a pebble or buttercup will charm the little maid. But the mother seizes the happy moment. She makes Margaret see that the daisy is a bright yellow eye with white eyelashes round it; that all the day long it lies there in the grass and looks up at the great sun, never blinking as Margaret would do, but keeping its eyes wide open. And that is why it is called daisy, 'day's eye,' because its eye is always looking at the sun which makes the day. And what does Margaret think it does at night, when there is no sun? It does what little boys and girls do; it just shuts up its eye with its white lashes tipped with pink, and goes to sleep till the sun comes again in the morning. By this time the daisy has become interesting to Margaret; she looks at it with big eyes after her mother has finished speaking, and then, very likely, cuddles it up to her breast or gives it a soft little kiss. Thus the mother will contrive ways to invest every object in the child's world with interest and delight."
If we are trying to encourage the habits of attention and observation when it comes to picture study we first need to present a work of art to our children and let them look at it. For this example we will use VanGogh's Starry Night, a painting many of us have seen hundreds of times. Our first inclination, and the inclination of young children, might not be to give it too much attention... "Oh that's VanGogh" we might say to ourself, or "It's a picture of night" a child might say... but we need to train ourselves to really pay attention and to observe works of art. What are the colors VanGogh used? Look at the buildings. Count the stars. Trace the brushstrokes with our fingers. By pointing out and helping our children to see the details in works of art we help them develop the habits of observation and attention and to develop a love and connection with the works of art they study.

I still have quite a few Hearts and Trees Spring 2011 Kits left,
so be sure to check them out.