The past few evenings have been absolutely gorgeous so my family and I have been spending quite a bit of time playing outside. Early in the week, as I sat on a bench of our neighborhood park while my kids played on the structure, I noticed the leaves on the ground. I picked up one of the dry leaves and began to examine the gift of Fall: the crisp lines, the wrinkles, and the sharp edges. This act reminded me of one of the activities I did with my fourth graders and immediately, I thought, “I wonder if my son might like this?”
This activity is part of an interdisciplinary curriculum called The Private Eye, which encourages students to closely analyze an object using a magnifying lens and then relate the object to something else based on its intrinsic qualities. So, I got my hands on one of the jeweler’s loupes that are included in the curriculum and tempted my son S to try out this exercise. (You could easily substitute a magnifying glass for the loupe, if you have one around the house. I’m pretty sure you can pick up either at your local hardware or toy store.)
First, he picked an acorn off the ground and like a budding Sherlock Holmes, stared through the loupe for quite some time. I wanted S to translate what he saw through the loupe onto paper so I drew a circle and told him to draw what he was seeing.
While the acorn looked more or less as it should, his thought process to make it so was quite unique. He said, “The acorn looks like a peanut. And the top part looks like really really tiny raisins. I see a bunch of lines.” Essentially, he was using things he had seen before and knew: peanuts from outings with his dad at the ballgame and the occasional raisin from afternoon snack to describe something he had seen before, but never been asked to describe: the acorn.
We tried this activity again with a dry leaf and the result was similar. S said, “Mom, it has a lot of lines and looks like the cracks on a sidewalk. It also kind of looks like a spider, or maybe a spider’s web. Or rivers on a map.” His train of thought was endless, but again he was taking what he knew to illustrate another idea. He was drawing these connections, and though they might not have been the first things that came to my mind, I understood his reasoning.
After he described the leaf, he was off looking at other little tidbits through the loupe. And whether or not we verbalized the activity, I could see him going through a similar thought process each time. This was the point of the activity: to find meaning in things beyond face value. Next time, I hope we can explore this meaning and I can ask him, “Why do you think it might be like that?” In that moment though, we were simply enjoying the simplicity and complexity of nature that accompanies our afternoons outside.