Learning to See

As we grow we limit our sense of kaleidoscopic vison. This vision helps us to wonder about everything we experience. It brings a deeper experience. Let’s explore S-P-A-C-E.

Of all the senses that we have, we perhaps over use the visual sense, which probably dulls this sense into seeing and sensing things in a predictable way. Little children can surprise us with their kaleidoscopic vision, as they don’t yet have fixed ways of seeing things. They experience the visual space around them, they do not merely see it. Let’s do a simple experiment.. Observe your left hand and draw it. (Or do the opposite if you are a left-hander). Now turn to a new sheet, and this time try and draw the space between the five fingers of your left hand and the space around the palm. So you are drawing the “space” and not the hand. Compare the two experiences – one of drawing the “space” and the other of drawing the “object”.

Let’s avoid defining this sense of space, its arrangement, its appeal, and its harmony. Let’s explore spatial intelligence through a set of activities based on the acronym,S~P~A~C~E   Although most of the activities suggested here are for the pre-primary and primary age groups ( 3 to 8 years), the same can be easily applied to older groups with slight modifications.


  1. This first activity helps reduce the area of your vision allowing you to focus on the finer details of things around you. Help the children cut a small window in a large sheet of paper and ask them to see through this window. The small hole in the paper will force the eye to focus on a much smaller area without any peripheral interference, thus enabling detailing. You can also get children to roll two chart papers (or use old magazine glazed paper) into the two arms of a pair of binoculars and go sight-seeing. The idea here is to ‘talk’ about what they are seeing, as their eyes flutter from one object to another (in isolation).
  2. Ask the children to sit in a circle. Take any common object – say a toy. Let the children pass this object around with each child pointing out a small visual detail. They can either talk about it, or just show, “see this”, pointing out a different part or a smaller detail of the bigger part. Children soon get microscopic and this kind of detailing really trains their eye to ‘linger’ on the object of their interest.
  3. A fun game is to show the children a visually rich picture/scene. Let the children study this picture for some time, say 3 min. Then hide the visual and ask the children to remember as many details as they can. Younger children will add a lot of their imagination, don’t stop them, allow the children to remember the picture in their own way. It is interesting to show visuals of things that the children have not seen before, so that they describe visual not using “names”, but in terms of lines and curves and colours and shades, etc. You can also play this game with a small movie clip.
  4. Choose a shape, colour, or any other visual-spatial characteristic like corners. Ask the children to go around the class or school and notice where and in how many places they can find this visual characteristic and in what form. Even a simple thing like window grill or boundary wall design can be very interesting to explore.
  5. Give children pictures cut out from magazines and newspapers. You don’t have to carefully cut out every image so that the entire object is seen. Cut randomly, which means you will cut pictures into halves and three-fourths, so that not one piece actually makes any sense. Ask the children to sort all the pictures into three or four boxes. Do not label the boxes. Let the children decide on what basis they are segregating the pictures into the different boxes. Tell children that every picture must go into one of box. After they have done this, ask the children to explain why they put a certain picture in to a specific box.


  1. Perspectives can be physical –from where you see something– like seeing a table from above, side, under, very close (nose touching the table), very far, etc. Children see different things from different physical angles. Ask them to talk about how the same thing looks different when we see it from different perspectives. Children can also draw how the same thing looks different when seen from a different angle. They could attempt at least two drawings of the same object from different angles. An interesting example is to see an airplane from the top, front, back, and sideways. They can even make simple clay models from different perspectives or click photos if you are open to giving them digital cameras.
  2. Perspectives can be mental –like who/what you see some thing as – like seeing a flower as an insect, then seeing the flower as sun or cloud, seeing the flower as the pot in which it grows, etc. Give children references that they can appreciate. The story of the six blind men and the elephant helps illustrate this point.
  3. Perspectives can be emotional –like with what feeling you see something– like seeing an ice cream when you are sleepy, angry, tired, on full stomach, etc.
  4. Perspectives can be environmental –like how surroundings affect how you see something– take children to the same part of the school during different times of the day – early morning, afternoon, evening, power cut, when different lights are switched on (yellow versus white), on cloudy day, etc. Let children see how the same place looks different when seen in different lighting. Children can also carry small bits of colour see-through paper, or plastic, or sunglasses to see things through colour filters.
  5. Perspectives can be Sensorial –like what you perceive something to be only by feeling or sensing it–get the children to discover hidden objects only by feeling them (typically in an opaque bag). Also, engravings in small slabs of clay, which they have to guess only by feeling will be quite interesting.


  1. Allow children to make mistakes. Most adults (and teachers) are still too keen to point out errors in any visual composition. Nothing takes the fun so easily and completely out of a visual work as compared to mistake mongering. In order to regain the fun of making simple mistakes get your children to do an activity called, ‘draw-it-wrong’. In this activity children are purposefully asked to commit as many mistakes in their drawings as they possibly can. Once children get this idea, they open up to colouring the sun black, the clouds pink, and drawing birds as playing cricket (and these aren’t even mistakes according to us!).
  2. Allow children to imagine. This is not the same as making mistakes. Mistakes require acceptance, imagination requires patience. Draw a small dot, or car, or apple – anything – in the middle of a big sheet. Give such a sheet to every child. Now ask the children to populate this sheet with things they can visualize around this object. As they draw keep asking them to add more. Let them add things related, unrelated, real or pure imaginary. The key is to put time aside and let children’s mind spiral outward beyond what is known.
  3. Allow children to break. Break things, open machines, cut up pictures, spill colour, etc. Have you ever cut an apple into horizontal slices? If you have, you know what we are implying. If you haven’t – cut one today and see the magic!
  4. Allow children to work as a whole group – most visual activities are considered as individual or at best small group activities. But the real energy of visual and spatial thinking comes out when the group colludes as one and begins to weaves infinite ideas into madness. One favourite activity (for which you will have to shift all the furniture out of your room) for small children is to make a large cutout of say an elephant the size of your room (that is approx the right size for an elephant :-). Use tapes sheets of newspapers to do this. Now dress children in old clothes and arm them with paint and together get 10 children to paint the elephant. Enjoy the chaos and the process. For older children let them first cut parts of newspaper and tape them to room to make a room-size elephant, or butterfly, or aeroplane – anything and then paint it!
  5. Allow children to do nothing – but just observe in silence. Discourage them even from talking. Just let them observe in complete silence, a tree, a cloud (lie down on a terrace), a car – anything. This is time for absorption.


In visual and spatial thinking, constraints are not opposite of allowing, rather they are complementary.

  1. Let’s start with some resource constraints, like draw a scenery with only one colour. Or make a car using blocks, but blocks cannot be on top of one another, or make a cycle using just a dupatta, etc.
  2. Give children many tasks using physical constraints – small space, large space, you can use one hand only, or can’t use thumb, paint with eyes closed, use your palms to paint, etc.
  3. Give children idea constraints – draw a car using only circles, make a model of an aeroplane that looks like a flower, arrange the chairs in the room such that everybody can sit, but nobody can see each others’ backs, etc.
  4. Give children time constraints – extremely short deadlines, very long deadlines and ask children to keep drawing the whole time, spending only one minute on one part of a model, etc.
  5. Put social constraints – let the children draw together, one after another, work in pairs – one child uses right hand and one uses left, work as a team, etc.


  1. Children express what they see and nothing else – eg: draw what they see out of the window or what they see in a book.
  2. Children express what they think and nothing else – eg: what their thoughts are about kites, about India, about hospitals, etc.
  3. Children express what they feel and nothing else -eg: whatever are they feeling when they see a leaf falling, a sea rolling, a pencil broken, etc.
  4. Children express what others see, think or feel and nothing else – eg: what their friends’ thoughts are about ‘snowfall’, etc.
  5. Children express what they do not want to express – eg: how they feel about their mother / uncle / themselves, etc.

Enjoy experimenting, enjoy what you see and enjoy what you don’t see – because:
What we see as cloud, children see as elephant;
what we see as painting, children see as ‘my car’;
what we take as seeing, children take as experiencing and absorbing;
what we think is Art, children see as expression;
what we want as learning, children are ready to discover.