Daddy? Cool! Ideal suggestions for a Father's Day adventure

Children often learn through a skill in which they are true masters: by observing. They miss no detail – and they draw their conclusions from it. So we should consider well which sorts of people, animals and phenomena we wish to draw the attention of our small observation specialists to. A brief father's day excursion into worlds that are crawling, buzzing but also thundering.
Text Christian Ankowitsch
Photo Barry Feinstein

Watch and learn. Children learn in different ways, including through their mastery of observation. They look closely at their immediate surroundings, follow people’s movements, actions and facial expressions to imitate them. Not always to the delight of the observed, because children make no difference between helpful and less helpful role models. A discovery by brain researchers shows just how great our ability to observe is and what powerful effects it has on us. About fifteen years ago, researchers studying the brains of monkeys and humans found special cells which are activated both when the animal (or human) performs an action or observes the same action being performed by another.

Making faces, for example, or showing emotions. And even better, these so-called mirror neurons are even content with someone just hinting at a particular action – that’s enough for them; they can easily complete the missing moves. These neurons are particularly good at processing and understanding human actions. The brain researchers thus concluded that the mirror neurons help us to understand and recognize emotions properly and so empathize with others. And they play an even more important role in learning new physical abilities. For example, athletes can improve their jumping technique simply by studying movement sequences – without having actually practiced them.

In a word: Mirror neurons are the answer to the question of why we are such great observers and why our children learn so much in this way.

Children often learn through a skill in which they are true masters: by observing. They miss no detail – and they draw their conclusions from it. So we should consider well which sorts of people, animals and phenomena we wish to draw the attention of our small observation specialists to.

What else there is to observe

Of course, our children’s desire to observe is not limited to humans but basically extends to the whole world. Unknown, unexpected, exciting and extraordinary things and phenomena are of particular interest. To encourage children to learn new things, to satisfy their thirst for knowledge, exercise patience, show respect for others and nature, to recognize the beauty of the world, to think differently, to be precise and to sharpen their senses, it is advisable to send them outdoors. There they can let their eyes wander and watch animals, for example.

Operation flower meadow
Just squat down in a flower meadow in the summer, be quiet and wait a while. In no time, the first grasshopper, the first ant and the first beetle will emerge. Observe. Then stretch out a finger and wait until a ladybug has crawled onto it. Now hold the finger vertically upwards. The ladybug will climb up, pause briefly on the fingertip and then fly away.

Turn over stones
Look for a big stone or a piece of wood that have obviously been lying in place for a long time, turn them over – and watch the bustle of the creatures underneath. Observe the earthworms, the woodlice, the centipedes and all the unknown animals. Check in the field guide you have brought with you, find the appropriate insect and then proudly proclaim, “I’ve just seen a stag beetle!”

Barry Feinstein

»A father may only be a dad for a little while, but he is a son’s hero forever.«

Here are a few options for your own observation projects. The kids could:

• Observe natural phenomena (for example, the different states of matter that water can have)

• Search for animals in a pond (with a cup magnifier and a net)

• Observe physical phenomena (at home by doing various experiments)

• Visit construction sites (especially exciting for little boys)

• Get an aquarium and observe the fish

• Go whale watching (on the south coast of Australia, for example)

• Observe the weather (an important task especially in the US, Canada and Australia, but also in Europe; monitor the development of bad weather and report it to the local authorities:,,,

This book excerpt is from "Wir Jungs - ein Handbuch für Väter, Söhne und andere Abenteurer" by Christian Ankowitsch. First published in rampstyle #18.

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