Noticing the Detail: Ideas to help children become more observant.

Noticing the Detail: Ideas to help children become more observant.


This is the third blog I’ve written recently which deals with how we can encourage children to use their senses as a way towards improved literacy outcomes. (The first two dealt with listening and our sense of smell)


This time the focus is on sight and how we can get children to really look at the things around them; to become better at simply noticing.

I mean - how much time and opportunity do we give children to practise the art of observation?


One of the things that children often struggle with in their writing is a lack of interesting detail and description: the depiction of a character or a place they are writing about.

At the heart of this struggle can be the ability to notice and observe; noticing details can give a child much more to work with, think about and therefore put into their writing.


There will be some things your child is already doing that go towards them enhancing their powers of observation such as Where’s Wally books and ‘Spot the Difference’ quizzes.

Here’s a few more you might want to try:

  • Take any object you can find around the house - something ordinary like a whisk or an ornament. Ask your child to look at it for just 30 seconds. Then they have to tell you as many things about it that they saw. (Once they get the idea and become more focused they are likely to pick up on tiny scratches and marks etc.)


  • Put two coins in front of your child that they might think were fairly similar – e.g. two 20p coins. Again – give them some time to look really carefully at them and spot the differences. Challenge them to find as many as they can.


  • When you are out and about in your area set an ‘Observation Challenge’: How many road signs in a particular street? How many trees?  How many different varieties of trees and/or plants? How many road markings and of what colour? How many people do you meet wearing a hat? And so on.


  • On a piece of paper write a number or a word (about 5 or 6 digits or letters long).  Let your child look at it for a few seconds. Then write on a second piece of paper almost the same – just change one digit or letter. Hold this card up and they have to notice what the difference is:

bndfg       bmdfg

233578      223578

want         went


  • Get a photo from the newspaper or from the internet of a fairly crowded street scene. Let your child look at it for 30 seconds to a minute. Then tell them that a detective wants to know what they saw.  How good a witness would they be?  (You will need to prepare a few questions about the picture beforehand.)



  • Ask your child to walk round one room of your house and come out again. Then go in and move and re-arrange some things – open a window, move the hands on the clock, swap two ornaments around. They then have to return and see how many differences they can notice.



  • Set an outside trail where at each spot along the trail you have placed something unusual (a little plastic figure in a plant, some twigs that are arranged as a word or a symbol, stones arranged in a particular shape etc. Your child has to walk the trail and notice as many things as possible – and be able to narrate them in order as if they were part of a story.



  • Take a photo of the hands of different people you know. Write the name of the person on the back of the photo. Let our child study the photographs and who they belong to. Then ask them to identify the person from just the photo of their hands.



Talking and describing the smallest of details at regular intervals will increase their skills of observation and make noticing the details more likely. Talking with them and offering new vocabulary as you go will build a richer bank of words they can draw upon; give children more things to have in their ‘writing toolbox’.


So when asked to write about something, somebody or somewhere in a story they can visualise the details, dip into their toolbox and be more likely to produce more interesting, descriptive pieces of writing.




There are lots of other ideas that help children become more perceptive and observant – e.g. word discrimination skills in reading/ developing good learning dispositions through literacy and numeracy activities etc. in

The Thinking Child Network; you can join for free to have a look around.


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