Become an Expert Observer With the Three I’s

Maddy, a TerraCorps member who started her service term this year at Moose Hill, creates programs and activities that engage adults and youth alike in exploration of the natural world.

The three I’s is an educational practice that helps us explore our natural curiosity about the world and become better observers. Is there somewhere in nature, maybe your own backyard, where you like to sit and observe your environment? This place is what some naturalists call a sit spot! By sitting still for a few minutes and opening all of your senses you can become a part of your environment – and reveal the secrets of nature! 

While sitting in your sit spot, try the three i’s activity to help engage with your environment: 

I notice, I wonder, it reminds me of… 

We call these questions the 3 I’s and use them to hone our observation skills. The 3 i’s were originally coined by John Muir Laws, an artist, educator, and naturalist, who teaches that understanding our environment doesn’t come from simply looking at it, but rather by asking questions and making connections.  

Take a minute to make a list of people who are exceptional observers – fictional or otherwise. So, who did you come up with? Maybe Sherlock Holmes, Hellen Keller, or John Muir himself? All these people have one thing in common. They learned to pay in-depth attention to what their senses tell them about the world.  

Want to become a professional observer? Here’s how to start! First, it’s important to distinguish the difference between an observation and an opinion, inference, or identification. For instance, let’s imagine you pick up a nature object off the ground. You may already know what it is, but saying it’s a leaf would be identification. You may be able to guess how it came to be on the ground, but doing so would be an inference. And you may think it’s pretty, but that would be an opinion. A true observation requires using your senses to simply state what you notice, for example, “the nature object is green,” “it smells sweet,” or “it is soft to the touch.”  

Now it’s time to try it out yourself! Note: you can do this activity alone but it’s also fun to do with a partner. 

  1. If you have a sit spot already, head out and take a seat! Otherwise, now is the perfect time to find a sit spot. Anywhere in your backyard or somewhere close by in nature will do. 
  1. Take a few minutes to get comfortable and start getting in tune with your surroundings. 
  1. Pick up an object from nature that you can safely hold. 
  1. For one minute, say out loud (to your partner if you have one) some observations that you can make about your object from nature. Start each observation with “I notice…” 
  1. Now, for another minute, ask questions about your nature object. Start each question with “I wonder…” 
  1. Last, it’s time to make some connections! Take another minute to say out loud an experience or other object that your nature object reminds you of. Start each statement with “It reminds me of…” 

What did you learn about your nature object? Did you discover something about it you didn’t notice at first glance – perhaps a smell, texture, or color? What did it remind you of, and can you make a connection or relationship between those two things? What questions do you still have about your nature object? If you have time and a naturalist guidebook, chase your curiosity and see if you can answer some of those questions by investigating further! 

Be sure to share your sit spot adventures with us on social media and tag us on Facebook or Instagram!

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