HELP YOUR CHILD TO WONDER

SENSE OF WONDER Rachel Carson

One stormy autumn night when my nephew Roger was about twenty months old I wrapped him in a blanket and carried him to the beach in the rainy darkness. Out there, just at the edge of where-we-couldn’t-see, big waves were thundering in, dimly seen white shapes that boomed and shouted and threw great handfuls of froth at us. Together we laughed for pure joy – he a baby meeting for the first time the wild tumult of Oceanus, I with the salt of half a lifetime of sea love in me. As Roger passed his other birthdays, we continued that sharing of adventures in the world of nature that we began in his babyhood – a sharing based on having fun together rather than on teaching. I made no conscious effort to name plants or animals or to explain to him, but just expressed my own pleasure in what we saw. I think the results have been good. We let Roger share our enjoyment of things people frequently deny children because they are inconvenient or because they interfere with bedtime. We searched the shore at night for ghost crabs, those sand-colored, fleet-legged beings rarely glimpsed in daytime, our flashlight piercing the darkness with a yellow cone. We sat in the dark living room before the picture window to watch the full moon riding lower and lower toward the far shore of the bay, setting all the water ablaze with silver flames. The memory of such scenes, photographed by his child’s mind, will mean more to him in manhood than the sleep he lost. A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. For most of us that clear-eyed vision is dimmed or lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I would ask that her gift to each child be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the source of our strength. If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder he needs the companionship of an adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in. Parents often have a sense of inadequacy when confronted with the eager, sensitive mind of a child. “How can I teach my child about nature – why, I don’t even know one bird from another!” they exclaim. I believe that for the child, and for the parents seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. Once the emotions have been aroused – a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the unknown, a feeling of sympathy or admiration – then the wish for knowledge will follow. Wherever you are and whatever your resources, you can still look up at the sky – at its dawn and twilight beauties, its moving clouds, its stars by night. You can listen to the wind, whether it blows with majestic voice throughout a forest or sings a manyvoiced chorus around the eaves of your house or the corners of your apartment building.

You can feel the rain on your face and think of its long journey, its many transmutations, from sea to air to earth. Even if you are city dweller, you can find a park or a golf course where you can watch the mysterious migrations of the birds and the changing seasons, or ponder the mystery of a growing seed planted in a pot of earth in the kitchen window. Exploring nature with your child is largely a matter of becoming receptive to what lies around you. One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I new I would never see it again?” I remember a summer night when I went out on a flat headland all but surrounded by the waters of the bay. That night was so still that I could here the buoy on the ledges out beyond the mouth of the bay. Once or twice a word spoken by someone on the far shore was carried across on the clear air; a few lights burned in cottages. Otherwise, there was no reminder of other human life. I was alone with the stars: the misty river of the Milky Way flowing across the sky, the patterns of the constellations standing out bright and clear. Once or twice a meteor burned its way into the earth’s atmosphere. It occurred to me that if this were a sight that could be seen only once in a generation, this little headland would be thronged with spectators. But it can be seen many scores of nights in a year, and so the lights burned in the cottages. An experience like that can be shared with a child, even if you don’t know the name of single star. You can drink in the beauty, and wonder at the meaning of it all. And then there is the world of little things, seen all too seldom. An investment of a few dollars in a good hand lens will bring a new world into being. Some of nature’s most exquisite handiwork is on a miniature scale, as anyone know who applied a magnifying glass to a snowflake. A sprinkling of sand grains may appear as gleaming jewels of rose or crystal hue, or as glittering jet beads, or a mélange of Lilliputian rocks. A lens-aided view into patch and moss reveals a dense tropical jungle, in which insects large as tigers prowl amid strangely formed, luxuriant trees. Pondweed or seaweed put in a glass container and studied under a lens is found to be populated by hordes of strange beings. Senses other than sight can provide avenues of delight and discovery. Down in the shore early in the morning, Roger and I savored the smell of low tide – that marvelous evocation combined of many separate odors, of seaweeds and fishes, of tides rising and falling on their appointed schedule, of exposed mud flats and salt rime drying on the rocks. I hope he will later experience, as I do, the rush of remembered delight that comes with the first breath of that scent, as one returns to the sea after a long absence. Hearing requires more conscious devotion. I have had people tell me they had never heard the song of the wood thrush, although I knew the bell-like phrases of this bird had been ringing in their backyard every spring. Take time to listen and talk about the voices of the earth and what they mean – the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of surf. No child should grow up unaware of the dawn chorus of the birds in spring. He will never forget the experience of a specially planned early rising in the predawn darkness when the first voices are heard. Perhaps a few cardinals are uttering their clear, rising whistles, then comes the song of a whitethroat, pure and ethereal, with the dreamy quality of remembered joy. Off in some distant patch of woods a whippoorwill continues

his monotonous night chant, rhythmic and insistent. Robins, thrushes, song sparrows, add their voices. In that dawn chorus one hears the throb of life itself. On a still October night when there is little wind, find a place away from traffic noises, then listen. Presently your ears will detect tiny wisps of sound – sharp chirps, sibilant lisps and call notes. They are the voices of bird migrants, apparently keeping in touch with others of their kind scattered through the sky. I never hear these calls without a sense of lonely distances, a compassionate awareness of small lives directed by forces beyond volition or denial, a surging wonder at the sure instinct for route and direction that so far has baffled human efforts to explain it. What is the value of preserving this sense of awe and wonder? Is the exploration of the natural world just a pleasant way to pass the golden hours of childhood, or is there something deeper? I am sure there is something much deeper, something lasting and significant. Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. Whatever the vexations of their personal lives, their thoughts can find paths that lead to inner contentment and to renewed excitement in living. Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. In my mail I once found a letter from a reader who asked for advice on choosing a seacoast spot for vacation, a place wild enough that she might roam beaches unspoiled by civilization, exploring that world that is old but ever new. Regretfully she excluded the rugged Northern shores. Climbing over the rocks of Maine might be difficult, she said, for an eighty-ninth birthday would soon arrive. As I put down her letter I was warmed by the fires of wonder and amazement that still burned brightly in her youthful mind and spirit, just as they must have done fourscore years ago.

THE SENSE OF WONDER Ingrid Van Mater
Shall any gazer see with mortal eyes, Or any searcher know by mortal mind? Veil after veil will lift -- but there must be Veil upon veil behind. -- Sir Edwin Arnold, The Light of Asia

What is the sense of wonder, so alive in children, only faintly evident in many of us, yet necessary in understanding the deepest levels of our humanhood? It suggests that there is something beyond the material world to wonder about, and a sense beyond the ordinary physical senses with which to ponder life's imponderables. In the 1950s Rachel Carson left a treasure for posterity in her book, The Sense of Wonder, in which she muses: If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength. -- pp. 42-3 The big question is how to keep the soul-promise of childhood from being discouraged or ignored, as frost nips an unopened flower. We are still suffering from the type of alienation Rachel Carson observed three decades ago, and the antidote in our mechanistic age would seem to be to maintain our inner ties with the natural world. And this must begin with our responsibility to children: to give their spontaneous ideas and feelings a warm reception and help them appreciate the wonder of life which they instinctively feel. If ever we doubt our closeness to nature, we need but observe the light in a child's eyes as it gradually explores the world of living things: squatting down low to be near the flowers; pressing its face against the window to watch the dancing raindrops; delighting in all animals and insects, in water, and just plain earth. A child is a free spirit, responsive and ready to discover the world around it. It identifies with earth, sea, sky, sun and stars -- friends from long, long ago. An ancient pilgrim, it has returned to its earthly home to begin life anew, bringing with it the essence of all it has learned on previous sojourns. Children are therefore at one and the same time wise and innocent. When a child asks, "Where was I before I came here?". . . can we really know what adventures the soul of that child, old in wisdom, has been experiencing before coming to earth again? Even the physical process of birth reveals unresolved wonders of the intelligence of cell life. And when the child questions, "What is rain?" we can explain the cycle -- of moisture being reabsorbed into the clouds and returning to refresh and nourish all things -- but it is the mystery of millions of raindrops falling from sky to earth that captivates a young imagination.

Whatever a child asks, it is important to keep the door open for its own fresh ideas, enabling it to continue reaching, growing, and probing more deeply to find answers. It requires so little to nurture a youngster's eager interest, as instanced by a three-year-old's response when his grandmother took him for a walk in unspoiled country, sharing with him her enthusiasm for the sun, clouds, trees, and grass, telling him they belong to him because he is nature. Immediately he ran around free as a bird, arms outstretched, shouting with excitement "I'm nature! I'm nature!" -- the most wonderful discovery in the world. Such exuberance can only be a genuine response of the soul. Who knows what impact this memory may one day have on him? Joseph Bharat Cornell, a nature-awareness instructor, has trained thousands of teachers, parents, and outdoor educators as part of his Earth Sky program. He emphasizes the heart and intuitive qualities, "to stimulate joyful, enlightening insights and experiences" in children, believing with Rachel Carson that it is more important for a child to feel than to know all about the natural world. He accomplishes his objectives through noncompetitive games in which nature is the teacher, bearing in mind certain principles such as respecting children and being receptive to what they are saying and asking by following the "grain of their own curiosity." Rather than simply enumerating facts which have little meaning when unrelated to experience, he shares with them his reverence for nature and his own deep sentiments concerning the oneness of all living things. In his book, Sharing Nature with Children, Cornell gives a touching example of the results of imparting his feeling of veneration for a dwarfed mountain hickory tree: over two hundred years old and only eight feet high, it has struggled to remain alive between two huge boulders, its branches twisted by severe winter winds. Finding scant soil and nourishment it sent its roots down deep, suffered from lack of water in summer and too little, as it was often frozen, in winter. The children at once identified with this tree as a living being, and their compassion was aroused. In fact, their concern was such that on their hikes they went out of their way to empty their canteens on its roots, and ran to see it each year when they returned to camp. An inside view of how nature works fosters greater sensitivity to her aliveness and mystery; enthusiasm mounts. Keener observation, and the desire to learn, intensify what is seen and heard, creating a joyous awareness of belonging. All these emotions and impressions prepare young hearts and minds for seeds of wisdom to take root and grow, enriching the maturing years with the wonder of continual discovery. (From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1986; copyright © 1986 Theosophical University Press)

Developing a Sense of Wonder in Young Children by Peter Haiman, Ph.D. Rachel Carson has written: "A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy, who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from sources of our strength." In recent years, the field of early childhood education, historically a field fully committed to whole child development, has focused primarily on cognitive and academic issues. From the point of view of the child, the most important dynamics of life and learning are emotional and social. Where are we today in our understanding about the sense of wonder in young children? What thought and theory have been proposed, and what research has been done on this centrally important aspect of being? Is our problem that we have so lost within ourselves the sense of wonder that we do not value - are even threatened by - its presence in children? Have we bought the powerful societal messages to which the poet William Wordsworth alluded so perceptively many years ago when he wrote: The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! Are we not irritated by experiences outside the timed lockstep of daily living? That lockstep does seem to offer surety and security to our lives. But does it really? If so, what is the life that remains? Is it not a bargain with the devil in which we ensure our survival by repressing our sense of wonder - the core and meaning of life itself? No wonder then that many adults are so threatened or annoyed by the spontaneity of young children. No wonder that "for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood". How can we, as parents, most effectively become the companions that help each child discover the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in? How do we make sure that we foster and strengthen the sense of wonder in young children?

The sense of wonder is an integral part of every newborn infant. Wonder is possible when children are free from threats and fears. Here are some ideas of how parents can provide an atmosphere in which wonder can flourish in children. A sense of wonder is created, nourished, and sustained when:

Sensitive parents react in a prompt, responsible, and satisfying way to the voiced and unvoiced needs of their children Children are well-fed, rested, and allowed ample opportunity to run, jump, ride, climb, and play. Parents have lovingly held and cuddled their child in ways and amounts that addict not only the child but the parent to their mutual comfort and joy. The child feels secure in the child-satisfying love and attention of her parents. Parents and other adults who are models for the child regularly show their surprise, interest, and attraction to the natural world and its happenings - from the movements of a worm, the wag of a dog's tail, bubbles popping in a bath, the shadow cast by the sun, and a spider's web, to the mold on an old slice of bread. Parents and other adults close to the daily life of the child interact with the child and her world from evident interest, spontaneous humor, and joy. Parents encourage children to freely experiment, taste, feel, hear, see, explore, and get into things that are interesting and safe. Parents show their pleasure and delight and create novelty in what otherwise would be life's daily mundane chores and routines. Children see and hear their parents become engaged and responsively enlivened when doing such things as reading a story and playing or listening to music. Children safely and playfully enact the stories in their imaginations or the imaginations of creative, empathetic parents. Children notice that their parents let themselves get lost in the fun and creativity of play. Parents find something good about the mistakes children will make as they grow and learn. Parents are flexible enough to postpone their planned activities from time to time and let a child's creative idea or direction lead the way.

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Children are encouraged to voice their emotions and to talk about their hurts and fears with attentive, responsive parents. Children can choose play activities based on their own feelings of interest and boredom and not the decisions of another person. The efforts of young children are regularly encouraged and prized. Children's sense of wonder is damaged and grows weak if their efforts are often met by adult corrections and criticism.

Wonder becomes possible when children can risk being themselves without there being any risk at all.

A SENSE OF WONDER
by David W. Orr
David W. Orr is a professor and chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College and author of Ecological Literacy and Earth in Mind.

tionaries are not professional educators from famous universities, rather they are elementary school students, a growing number of intrepid teachers, and a handful of facilitators from widely diverse backgrounds. The goal of the revolution is the re-connection of young people with their own habitats and communities. The classroom is the ecology of the surrounding community, not the confining four walls of the traditional school. The pedagogy of the revolution is simply a process of organized engagement with living systems and the lives of people who live by the grace of those systems. Perhaps the word “revolution” is not quite the right word, for what is captured in the images that follow is more akin to a homecoming. We all have an affinity for the natural world, what Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson calls, “biophilia.” This tug toward life is strongest at an early age when we are most alert and impressionable. Before their minds have been marinated in the culture of television, consumerism, shopping malls, computers, and freeways, children can find the magic in trees, water, animals, landscapes, and their own places. Properly cultivated and validated by caring and knowledgeable adults, fascination with nature can mature into ecological literacy and eventually into more and purposeful lives. A curriculum that enables young people to discover their own homes as described here is not an add-on to the conventional curriculum. It is rather the core of a transformed education that enables young minds to perceive the extraordinary in what we mostly mistake for the ordinary. There has never been a time when we needed the kind of transformation described here more than at the end of a century of unprecedented violence and at the dawn of the new millennium. We need it, first, to help open young minds to the awareness of the forgotten connections between people, places, and nature. But we need a transformed curriculum and schools as the start of a larger process of change that might eventually transform our communities and the culture beyond. If this occurs, and I believe that it will, it will begin with small everyday things: freshwater shrimp, the trees along the banks of streams, the lives of ordinary people, the stories we tell, and the excitement of children. D.H. Lawrence once said that “Water is H2O, hydrogen two parts, oxygen one, but there is also a third things that makes it water and nobody knows what it is.” It is magic, the kind that can only be found in nature, life, and human possibilities once we are open to them. What is captured in the images that follow is the kind of education that takes young people out of the classroom to encounter the mystery of the third thing. In that encounter they discover what Rachel Carson once called the “sense of wonder.” And that is the start of a real education.

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revolution in education is underway and it is starting in the most unlikely places. The revolu-

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