Observing the World Around Us

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When my son was about 2, my husband and I took him on a short hike at a local park. Along our walk, we passed a man and started a conversation about the trail, the weather, etc. As we chatted, our son entertained himself by looking at the rocks in the path, and up in the trees as the branches clacked together in the breeze. He then pointed up, and started jabbering in his toddler words to us about something he noticed in the branches, and wanted us all to look at it, too. It might have been a squirrel’s nest, a notch in the trunk, honestly, I can’t recall (though I wish I could). That’s when the man gave my favorite compliment ever: “He’s very observant!” It may not seem like a compliment at first, just a comment, but, if you think about it, being observant is a skill, and a gift, and something we can all use a little more of.

If you are observant, you may notice that someone is not acting the way they normally would. You might see that they are depressed, or worried, or just need someone to notice them. You might notice that something in your body is not feeling quite right, and that you should get it checked out. You might appreciate the little things in life that could easily pass you by if you don’t take a second to look at them. So much joy can come from noticing the “small stuff.”

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Of course, there are tons of blogs discussing parents’ need to slow down and appreciate each day with our kids at each age. There are tons of articles about the need for kids and adults to look up from their devices and observe the world around them. We all know this. But do we practice it, and teach it to our kids by example?

A few years ago, as I was walking back from school with my kids, I happened to look up at a tree along the sidewalk that we had walked by almost every day for years. Wrapped around the trunk about 10 feet up was a nylon rope, and over the years, the tree had grown completely around the rope, so all that remained visible was the trailing ends. I pointed it out to the kids, and we all stood there, wondering at the amazing work of the tree. The entire discussion on the walk home was about when and why we thought the rope was tied there. We’ll never know the answer, but it was great to think about.

Have you ever noticed that there are names or initials and dates printed on the bottom of paper bags? ShopRite bags, Trader Joe’s bags, Burger King bags, bags from Madison Bagel. (Though I don’t think they are on packages of lunch bags you buy at the store.) (I’ll wait while you go take a look in your paper recycling bin. See? Told you!) I saw these names, and also pointed them out to the kids. We were all intrigued, then we did a little investigating. Who were these people? Turns out others have had the same question. After a quick Google search, I found a 3-minute NPR All Things Considered podcast by Barbara Klein called “Paper Bags” where she investigated the names, particularly one name she saw on many bags. She actually contacted the person, Alan Rumbo, to learn more. (Listen here.) I was so glad to learn about it, but also to hear that I wasn’t the only one who wondered about the names!

Knowing these tidbits of information doesn't add more brain cells, or make me monetarily richer, but it does help me notice and appreciate the small things that many people overlook. I hope that, by sharing these small observations with my kids, they will continue to look up into the trees (or on the bottoms of paper bags) and observe the world around them.