Wonder and the Child
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.” - William Blake
I offered this advice originally as an observation on the pace of children's lives in and out of school. Now, we're out of school all the time. It feels like it's even more relevant now.
Sometimes we catch it: a child intently staring at a flower bud or absorbed in the way the light comes through the trees above her. We might glance at the backseat to see our children staring thoughtfully out the window, and wonder what wild and beautiful thoughts are going through their minds. Sometimes they share them with us, but often a child's sense of wonder is a mysterious and unpredictable phenomena. We know it's present for the child, and we know we want to honor it without our own adult agendas. We miss it in ourselves. But how do we create spaces to facilitate the spiritual state of wonder? True wonder catches us by our hearts. Can we possibly prescribe when it should occur?
Probably not. That's ok.
What we can do, though, is to create spaces that respect it, paces to our lives and habits of noticing that may support children (and ourselves) in the deep interconnectedness that wonder fulfills. Consider:
- Slow down. Children need time to process the world around them, to notice the details on a tiny shell or to experience the vastness of the sky. Our adult agendas are far more easily adjusted than the internal pace of the child.
- Love on your children: Hold them. Touch their hands. Stroke their hair. Make eye contact. Connect with them responsively.
- Model your own noticing: demonstrate surprise, excitement, and joy at the curious things around you. Notice the ways the shapes of different buildings overlap to offer glimpses of the sky beyond. Point out the moon. Spend time with your own shadow. The world around us offers opportunities all day long, at every moment, to slow down and notice its beauty. Model that for your children.
- Avoid overexplaining the phenomena you notice. We feel so much pressure to make sure our children are as intellectually engaged as they can be, but wonder is its own kind of engagement. If your child asks you why some birds fly in formation, answer truthfully (even if the answer is, "I don't know! Let's find out together!") But hold off on the technical explanations for the world's phenomena at first. Noticing leads to wonder. Wonder will lead to the questions. And then, when the questions are asked, the answers will be far more satisfying to the child.
- Encourage your child to touch, taste, smell and interact with the world around him. Let them get dirty. Let them explore the world. I'd rather too much soap than too little curiosity.
- Look for ways to reframe "mistakes" as opportunities to learn. When children fear getting it wrong, they often lose their courage to engage.
- Model your own playfulness and your own stillness. Don't worry about scheduling times for your children to notice what you're doing: they're noticing all the time.
- And finally, one from Montessori training: never interrupt a child's concentration. When you notice your infant staring intently at a picture on the wall, stand and hold her there. Let her keep staring. You'll know she's fulfilled when she closes her eyes or looks away. The same is true for older children. If you see a child offering close attention to some event, even if that event seems pedestrian to you, let the child's attention unfold. Maybe the child is watching the stream of water flow from one pitcher to another. Maybe the child is fascinated by how a baseball flies. Children are experiencing the world for the first time-- and it's quite an impressive world! Protect that concentration without interruption. When you see the child look away, or turn her head toward something new, or quickly look around to find you and ask a question, engage then. Ask the child what she or he was looking at. What did she notice? What does she think was happening? Allow conversation (and questions) to emerge from the child, being careful not to rush them along or drive them to the technical answers. Attention is like any other skill: it improves with repetition and practice. Don't get in the way.
Sharpen your own sense of wonder, and you will begin to protect it in your child.
"“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” - WB Yeats