Observation Outdoors




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What Is It All About?
General Training of the Senses
Observation Indoors
Observation Outdoors
Training in Tracking
Human Footprints
Booted Tracks
Human Tracks
Human Tracks: Characteristics
Tire Tracks
Animal Tracks: General
Animal Tracks: Characteristics
Bird Tracks & Snow
Tracking Rules
Author's Note
Scouts Cubs

Scout Books

Site Contents

By Gillcraft

We seem to be getting nearer the real thing when we start to talk about Observation Out-of Doors. It is hard to connect the Scout with indoor work, yet a great deal of Scout work, owing to the vagaries of the climate, must perforce be done indoors, and it would be a mistake to let slip the opportunities that indoor work affords us for laying the foundations of the more real Scouting out-of-doors.

Out-of-doors observation is rendered more difficult by the fact that the range of vision is increased. In towns the range is bounded by houses, and so somewhat confined; in the open country it is practically limitless. As B.-P. said before Scouting for Boys was written at all: "It should be a point of honor with a Scout that nobody sees any object that he has not already seen for himself." Then he was talking about war scouts, but the same is as true of the peace scouts of to-day.

It is noticeable that those who are accustomed to live in open spaces have usually a much keener eyesight than those who live in towns. Men "who go down to the sea in ships" have a clear, long vision. Savages and aboriginal peoples have the same keen sense of sight. The reason for it is that they have had considerable practice and that they have been trained, by others or by dire necessity, to keep their eyes well open.

Out-of-doors your eyes should never rest, but continually glance round in every direction, up and down, right and left, in front and behind; for the real Scout has eyes in the back of his head. You should be able to see both things that are near and things that are far, both things that are small and things that are large. I will not repeat the many illustrations that may be found in Scouting for Boys, because they can be read there.

So whenever a Scout is out of doors at all he should be encouraged, both by example and precept, to keep his eyes open all the time. Repeatedly one hears the remark, "How difficult it is to take up any nature study in towns." As a matter of fact it is comparatively simple if the Scouter and the Scout will but observe. There are trees, flowers, birds and even animals to be seen in towns, and the stars shine equally on the town and on the country.

Don't necessarily start your practice with, "Now, boys, we will practice observation." They should be practicing it all the time, and your training of them in it should usually be mixed up with something else. For instance, a Scouter in camp found he was smoking too much, and realized he was not setting a particularly good example. He offered a penny for every match that could be picked up in camp, giving as his reason that he wanted the help of his Scouts. Their observation was stimulated, although the penny was not really necessary, and his own ingenuity was stimulated, for he carried in his pocket in camp thereafter an empty shaving-stick tin into which he placed his spent matches!

Practice for the Pathfinder Badge, one of the first and most important qualifications of a real Scout, brings practice in observation in its train. Besides having a detailed knowledge of his own particular locality, the Scout must be able to act as a kind of miniature Cook's Guide anywhere within his district. He cannot do this unless he has used his eyes as he went about, and has remembered what he has seen.

It is the same with many other Scout activities; they are all linked together in one way or another, just as in this book on Tracking there are linked together such apparently diverse things as mental tests, observation, stalking, human beings, animals, birds, vehicles, detective stories, sand, snow, and all the rest of it!

Observation in towns need not necessarily be confined to the alternative test to Kim's Game - "describe satisfactorily the contents of one shop window out of four, observed for one minute each" - or to looking at advertisement hoardings.

A contributor to The Scouter asked some three years ago, "Has anyone thought of following up the various things - iron grids, gas and water valves, electric supply boxes - on the pavement? We are much too prone to take things for granted; we turn on the gas and light it, and, so long as it gives a good light, we do not care how it is made or how it gets to us; we ring up someone on the telephone - what does it matter how the wire comes to the house, whether in the open on poles or under the pavement, made into a great cable with, perhaps, five or six hundred other wires all neatly covered with paper and wax and the whole bundle covered with lead and threaded through a concrete conduit."

There is scope for much observation and much investigation along these lines.

In Yarn 12 of Scouting for Boys will be found several hints on how to teach observation in town and country, while on the next two pages will be found half a dozen games that can be utilized. Possibly the best of the six is "Far and Near," which can be played with infinite variety if the Scouter puts on his thinking cap.

Outdoor observation naturally includes the following of trails, and these are dealt with at greater length later on. Trails can be laid in town as well as in the country.

Observation is applied to the senses of hearing, smell and touch can be worked into stalking practices and games, and the art of stalking, too, is dealt with at greater length elsewhere.

Again, in order that the habit should be acquired it is necessary that the element of surprise should be brought in out of doors as well as indoors. In a walk in the town surprise questions should be put from time to time: "What was the name of the street we last passed on the right- hand side?" "What was the number of that car that we passed drawn up against the curb just now?" "What were the number and name of the house it was opposite?" "What number was on that point policeman's collar?" Scouts should always be encouraged to ask themselves such questions, and so enliven an otherwise dull journey.

In the country the nature of the snap questions will change to such as these: "In what field were turnips growing?" "What kind of cattle were in the field to the right at the bottom of the hill?" "How many oaks have we passed since we started?" "How many lines of wire did these telegraph poles carry?" "What was the shape of the weathervane on the church steeple?"

The fact that motion attracts the eye can be easily demonstrated by half concealing a number of Scouts and inviting the others to spot them. They will do so with difficulty while those concealed remain still, but as soon as they move they will spot them easily. Sudden movement is easily seen, as will be realized when you come to practice stalking. Every time you move you press a button, you become luminous, you draw every eye to you.

There is an important lesson of observation to be learned from the following story that B.-P. tells in Aids to Scouting:

"Common sense and a little reflection will often suggest to you the most likely points to look. "Thus, once I was having a match with a Shikari in Kashmir as to which of us could see farthest.

"He pointed out a hill-side some distance off, and asked me if I could tell how many cattle there were grazing on it. It is only with difficulty that I could see any cattle at all, but presently I capped him by asking him if he could see the man in charge of the cattle. Now, I could not actually see this myself, but knowing that there must be a man with the herd, and that he would probably be up-hill above them somewhere, and as there was a solitary tree above them (and it was a hot, sunny day), I guessed he would be under this tree. A look through the glasses showed this surmise to be correct."

And so the cycle is completed - look, comprehend, analyze, deduce!

There is another important factor connected with observation out-of-doors, and that is the necessity for recording in one's mind or on paper exactly what has been observed.

It can be readily seen that such First Class tests as deal with the judging of heights, distances, and so on, are tests in observation. It is not so readily appreciated that written reports, sketching and mapping are also matters in which observation is essential. When you do appreciate it you can see how the various activities of Scouting dovetail together. In order to practice one activity it is necessary to get a little practice in another, and so on right up the scale.

Your Scout is not much use to others unless he can record that he observes in an intelligent and intelligible manner If he is sent out in advance of a party to bring back information, it is necessary that he should be observant, and that he should remember what he has observed, and, moreover, that he should be able to impart the result of his observations to others. Your training in observation out-of-doors must of necessity include the making of reports, the making of rough sketch-maps, and, if possible, the making of sketches.

I cannot go into these subjects here, they would need a book to each of them; all I can do is to point to their importance in the scheme of Scouting.

In the crowded street of a largish town not so long ago an old woman was run over in full daylight by a motorcar. Not one of the many bystanders who saw the accident happen could remember the number of the car or its make, although a few had a vague idea as to its color. It is such incidents as these that point to the necessity of training people to observe, to be able to remember what they have observed, and to be able to repeat and write down what they have observed. In the next chapter I shall return to that question and try and suggest one way at least of giving Scouts practice.

Training in Tracking

Outdoor Skills






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What Is It All About? ] General Training of the Senses ] Observation Indoors ] [ Observation Outdoors ] Training in Tracking ] Human Footprints ] Booted Tracks ] Human Tracks ] Human Tracks: Characteristics ] Tire Tracks ] Animal Tracks: General ] Animal Tracks: Characteristics ] Bird Tracks & Snow ] Tracking Rules ] Appendix ] Foreword ] Author's Note ] Scouts Cubs ]

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.