Have you ever been struck by the beauty of a sunset landscape?
Or caught the glimpse of a rare animal in it’s natural state?
These moments are like magic when we take the time to pause & get into our senses. They have a unique timelessness that feeds our most ancient human soul on a deep level.
For some people these moments are quite rare, but tuning into the magic of nature doesn’t have to be rare. There are many things you can do to make these events more common in your life.
Nature observation is the practice of using our basic human senses to watch, listen, learn and appreciate our local environment while observing patterns in the life of plants, birds, trees & animals.
It all starts with how you choose to engage with the world around you.
The opportunity is there for you every day to open your eyes, ears and witness the world of nature.
This can bring an endless stream of beauty & joy into your life so today I thought I would share with you ‘The Quick & Easy Guide To Nature Observation’
Why Spend Time Observing Nature?
In our busy world with technology & computers you might wonder, ‘why should I take time out for nature?’
The fact is… people need connection to nature now more than ever.
There’s currently a growing deficit of nature in our world. People are spending more and more time inside concrete walls. We’re becoming more and more disconnected from our basic human senses and from the magic of the natural world.
The ability to observe nature is an inherent human skill which, when developed provides a cure for nature-deficit disorder.
Even the simplest of activities like watching ducks play on a pond can provide opportunities to connect with life & let go of your own personal world for a while.
You can think of it like a mini-vacation where every moment holds new excitement, adventure & learning opportunities… when you look for them that is.
Spending time with nature teaches us empathy.
There are life & death stories being played out every moment of every day. Watching life unfold & pass away season after season builds a deep sense of caring & respect for life.
You can watch trees grow from seedling to canopy… baby birds, baby raccoons, baby squirrels & all the crazy sounds they make… It’s enough to give anyone the warm fuzzies.
But the reasons aren’t all touchy feely.
Building your observation skills in nature will also provide you with enhanced personal power. You’ll have to learn how to apply your mind to gather up the components of a story & pull information off the landscape.
There’s a lot of research to suggest that quality time with nature increases concentration, happiness & overall well-being.
When people don’t get time with nature, stress levels are higher, ADD & other learning challenges arise.
Just imagine yourself as like a nature detective, or investigative reporter.
Your job is to fit together the pieces of the story. Observation is your toolkit.
All in all, this process is very simple & fun for yourself or to nurture the development of any youngsters in your family.
Nature Observation Activities
There are a lot of very simple activities that you can do to build your nature observation skills.
At the core of these activities lies your inherent capacity to use your senses & mind in a natural context.
When you go outside, do you stop to smell the roses?
Or do you plow through at great speed causing the animals to flee from you?
Do you take time to recognize the trees that grow near your home & watch how they change through the months & years?
Do you acknowledge the squirrel & his acrobatics or do you ignore him?
No matter how nature oriented you are as a person, there are always things we can do to further slow down & become present with what’s happening all around us.
In many cases the only reason we don’t notice things in nature is because we’re moving too fast.
One of the best ways to instantly magnify your observational capacity is simply to sit down somewhere & focus your awareness to the world around you.
When you move quickly in your body & mind, then your awareness is diminished… but when we become still on the outside, then we become still on the inside and we can take in the world through our five senses.
Practice Sensory Awareness
You can improve your ability to be aware of nature in a sensory way by focusing intentionally on each of your senses in turn. Start by closing your eyes and tune into your ears.
Imagine what it would be like to be a bat with their massive ultrasonic ears.
How many different sounds can you identify around you? What’s the quietest sound you can hear? What birds are calling in the distance?
Then spend a couple minutes tuning into your nose.
Sniff the air and everything around you. See how many scents you can identify in 5 minutes. What can you detect in the temperature and moisture content of the air?
Then sit very still & tune into your body.
Feel which direction the wind is blowing against your face. Feel the earth beneath your seat. Pick things up with your hands & test different substrates with your fingers.
Finally open your eyes & tune into your sense of sight.
Notice all the different colors & shades of green. Use your peripheral vision and tune into broad patterns with your eyes.
As little as three minutes of focus on your senses is enough to light up your brain neurons like a Christmas tree.
If you practice this every time you go outside then pretty soon you’ll naturally be paying much closer attention & notice a lot more.
Following The Trails of Natural Mystery
When you go out into nature there are stories everywhere. Nature is like a huge interconnected web.
Now that your senses are fully engaged, you can start to learn how it all fits together.
The natural world is made up of many interacting layers.
In addition to expanding your senses, it’s important to practice your observation skills with all the different layers of nature.
- Bird behavior changes depending on the weather…
- Certain plants draw in animals to feed at different times of year…
- The clouds roll in slowly from top to bottom when it’s going to rain…
All of these observations are relevant to the big picture.
It’s important to never ignore any one aspect of nature, especially when it’s commonplace. It’s usually the most common things that have the most to teach us. Yet, it’s also the most common things that are also most likely to be ignored.
When you break that pattern and just practice watching, looking, listening, you’re going to amaze yourself by how much you learn. You’ll be less apt to walk by and ignore the bird feeding on the lawn.
Sit and watch the squirrel for a little bit longer than you normally would…
Get down on your hands and knees and really tune into the insect world…
Pay attention to water patterns & notice that water moves through the land in an interconnected manner…
Streams flow into lakes which flow into new streams according to elevation…
The animals are drawn to certain water bodies. Can you figure out why?
All of this is happening in your own backyard! Even if you live in the middle of the city, nature is alive and vibrant when you choose to tune into it.
Here’s a quick list of activities that will promote your nature observation skills:
- Bird Watching
- Wildlife Tracking
- Ecology Classes
- Plant Walks
- Sitting on your front porch
Get Outside & Get Curious
The hardest part of becoming a skilled nature observer is taking the time to do it. Once you get off your butt and start to pay attention there’s really no way you can go wrong.
Just follow your curiosity and always remember that there are ways to look deeper.
At the core of curiosity lies a willingness to ask questions even if you don’t know the answers.
In reality, it’s not about knowing the answers. It’s all about how the question gets you to look & pay attention to notice something new.
Go Outside And Ask Yourself:
- What’s happening right now?
- What can I observe?
- Why is that happening?
- How does this all fit together?
Keeping A Nature Journal
What good is nature observation if you don’t remember what you observe?
One of the best ways to build your memory & make better observations is to keep a nature journal.
There are two ways that a nature journal can be used.
First, you can actually sketch and take notes while you’re out in the field. Many people find that having a notebook in the field is a great way to improve their level of focus.
By sketching & describing the patterns you observe, it helps you tune into a deeper level of nature than you would normally experience.
The second way that a nature journal can be used is to record your observations by memory after you go inside.
Keeping records of what you noticed forces you to recall and remember what you observe.
You have to build a vivid internal representation of your nature experience, and this will also make you aware of any holes in your awareness.
This can be as simple as a brief jotted description of what you noticed while you were outside. Record your sensory descriptions & observations of whatever was happening with the birds, plants, trees, weather, etc.
Once you have your observations recorded you can even take it a step further by asking yourself, ‘What am I curious about beyond what I just observed.’
Jot down any questions you might want to research or gather more information about the next time you go out.
This is a great way to build your nature knowledge by drawing on field guides & modern research.
Over time your burning questions will give you great motivation to get outside again & pay even closer attention.
Who knows, you might even make a unique discovery!
In a few years you’ll be able to look back on all your journals and stand in awe of how much you now know about nature, all by using the powers of your own mind.
Nature Observation For Kids
Nature observation isn’t just some boring adult learning exercise.
In fact, it’s often better if we take a bit of a childlike attitude.
When doing nature observation with kids we have to use a bit of a different approach.
Children are less technical than adults, but their capacity to view the world in a sensory way is as good or better than most adults.
Some kids will find it very easy to sit & watch the birds for hours on end, but others won’t.
It’s important to not put too much pressure on them.
Even if they’re bouncing off the walls with energy, rest assured that they ARE still paying attention.
A midst the chaos & excitement of play, you’ll notice moments when they get caught by an insect, or the way a particular old tree looks in the sunlight… Your job is to milk those moments!
All you really have to do is provide opportunities for these natural moments to occur, without trying to force them.
You can engineer scavenger hunts, sneaking games, free play time by the creek or any other fun activity that can be done in nature.
These all provide endless opportunities for kids to flex their nature observation muscles.
It’s best to focus primarily on having fun in the context of nature, and allow the observational component to come in through the background.
It’s often very easy to engage children in conversations about nature by focusing on long-term cycles. Draw their attention to signs of season, weather, broad ecological patterns, & cycles of the sun, moon/stars.
As they get older you can prompt more with questions, challenges, & missions that encourage inquiry & deeper reflection.
The psychological effects of nature are the same with children as they are with adults, so don’t be surprised if your kids start doing better with school, relationships & general happiness.
I’m sure you won’t mind though 😉
Let’s Take It To The Next Level
So now we’ve explored nature observation from all different angles.
All you have to do now is pick one thing that you’re inspired to do and start taking action.
I’d love to hear from you about your journey with nature observation.
- Is most of this new to you or are you a seasoned veteran?
- What is your favorite nature observation tip?
- What helps you make good observations in nature?
- What are you excited to try out?
Leave me your thoughts in the comment box below!