My 10-year old granddaughter and I were hanging out after school. I could see that she wasn’t yet interested in starting her homework on this bright, wintry California afternoon, and I wanted to invite some movement first, anyway, as she’d been sitting all day. “What shall we do next?” I asked, starting to name some favorite out door activities: “Play ball? Make an obstacle course? Go on a scavenger hunt…”
“A scavenger hunt!” she said, lighting up. “Let’s go for a walk and find things.” I didn’t have a pre-made list, so I proposed to write out a list of 20 items for her to find. She said that she’d make 20 for me to find, as well, and I could tell by her smile that she was already thinking up some good ones.
We both laughed as we heard, outside, a crow cawing, seeming to signal a starting point. We each took an index card and pencil. On my card I wrote: A talking crow. She wrote: A long piece of grass. We wrote quickly. H paused just to ask about spellings. We glanced at each other’s cards only once or twice, then completed our lists and, in no time, were ready to go. We got into PACE*, did The Thinking Cap, and started out meandering around the block. Everything seemed fresh and new. I was looking for the first item H had written on my list: A piece of long grass! But all the grass appeared freshly mown.
“Grandma, do you see any kind of red leaf ?” H was asking. She then ran toward an ornamental pear tree to show me its luminous red and gold leaves beneath. We oohed and aahed over the colors.
“What about a blue house. Do you know if there’s one around here?” I pointed to a bluish-gray house nearby. “No. That’s not blue enough. That one should be yours.” (My own list included a gray house, which I quickly marked off!)
From behind a fence, a dog barked. I looked at my card. A barking dog. “Can I count that dog even though I can’t see it?” I asked. “Sure!” H responded generously. “Look, Grandma. A piece of long grass!” We were now clearly partners on this particular hunt, together seeking items on our lists. We were both slowly looking high and low and all around: Our senses were heightened as we watched and listened for clues to find more items. We compared our lists:
Next on H’s List
A talking bird
A birch tree
A flower smaller than your thumbnail
Next on My List
A white cat
A black dog
A red flower (extra points for a rose)
After a fruitless search for a white cat we know, we found a silhouetted sculpture of a black cat catching a butterfly, and decided that could work for both of us.
“Grandma, where can I find a birch tree?” H asked next. I explained that we were looking for a tall, slender tree with diamond-shaped “eyes” on its white, papery bark. In the air I drew an upward arch with my hand as I described its flowing branches. Looking around, H pointed down the street. “Oh, I know. Is that one?” We walked closer to see. Yes. I told H that a birch tree is sometimes called “The Watchful Tree” because of its eyes, and is also sometimes called “The graceful lady of the wood,” though in winter, she drops all her leaves and is rather plain.
Next, H crouched down to the ground and used her thumbnail as a way to measure a tiny pink flower, part of a cluster, to see if she had indeed found A flower no bigger than your thumb nail.
I noticed how, in traveling just this short distance from our house, we had slowed time down in a wonderful way. By now, we had checked off about half our items. We had experienced an array of sounds and quietude. We had explored moving and still images, shape and texture, light, shadow, and color, and near and far vistas. We could turn back toward the house now, but decided to go the long way around instead. What would we discover next?
When Paul and I began teaching together in 1983, one of our treasured references was the work of developmental optometrist G. N. Getman**. It was Getman who said, “Movement is learning; learning requires movement.” He elaborated by saying: “The fact that an infant must learn to walk and talk is fully accepted by everyone. It is most important to know that the infant must also learn to see, hear, feel, smell, and taste—the machinery for each is present, but he or she must learn to use it.”
Learning to use the senses doesn’t require being taught in a linear way. In fact, as pioneering educator Maria Montessori showed us, it’s more about being interested in learning for ourselves, while providing an environment that will engage the child’s desire to explore and discover. Actively looking around out side, as we were doing, naturally trains scanning, depth perception, eye teaming, and many other visual skills.
In 1989 I began teaching Visioncircles***: 8 Spheres of Perceptual Awareness, a course I developed in natural vision improvement. Since that time, I’ve seen repeatedly, with hundreds of students, that vision is a learned skill of attention, and that we can continue learning new visual and sensory skills throughout our lives. Further, I see that in all the ways that we teach children, we’re teaching them (for better or worse) how to see and to use their senses. Let’s take every opportunity to engage a broad range of sensory and motor skills that will support a lifetime of rich multi-sensory interactions.
* PACE, a quick and simple way to activate sensory and motor skills for learning, includes four of the 26 Brain Gym® activities. Click here for the name of an instructor near you. PACE, and the 26 are also described in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition by Dennison and Dennison, © 2010.
**G. N. Getman, O.D., How to Develop Your Child’s Intelligence (1992).
***To find a Visioncircles Instructor in your area, click here. See also: The Vision Gym activities, described in Vision Gym®: Playful Movements for Natural Seeing, a card set and booklet by Gail E. Dennison and Paul E. Dennison.
© 2013 by Gail E. Dennison. All rights reserved.
Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International/the Educational Kinesiology Foundation.