Nurturing a Sense of Wonder

The Sense of WonderRachel Carson, in her must-read book The Sense of Wonder, says:

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full or 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 disenchantment of later years…the alienation from the sources of our strength.

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

One of the things I loved most about homeschooling my children was it taught me to see the world again through the eyes of a child, I was able to have my sense of wonder about life renewed by nurturing it in my own children. How do we nurture a sense of wonder? Here are some tips.

Read lots of books about the natural world and about scientists. Subscribe to science oriented magazines. Ranger Rick is for elementaries and is published by The National Wildlife Federation. It occasionally mentions evolution and is definitely conservationist in tone, but is filled with interesting stories about plants and animals and lots of wonderful full color photos. Nature Friend Magazine is a Christian counterpart to Ranger Rick. Most states have magazines that feature plants, animals, geology, and scenic wildlife areas of that state.

Collect the tools of the trade. This includes field guides, binoculars, magnifying glasses, an insect net, pinning board and pins, a plant press, an aquarium with wire mesh lid, a rock hammer, magnets, a quality compass, and if finances allow, a microscope. (Look under the different science categories – insects, birds, etc. – for our recommendations for the best tools.) Invest in the highest quality tools you can afford. Children live in the “now,” so you want to be able to “seize the moment” when your child makes a scientific “find” (such as a snake) and be able to identify it and provide a place to study it while the interest is still high.

Help your child collect, categorize and identify common plants, animals, and rocks. Provide display space and containers to encourage collections.

Invest in field guides. Sure, you can check them out of the library, but you lose the critical nurture point for interest if you postpone studying the critter until you can go to the library. Start with the field guides in areas of greatest interest and in areas you are most likely to study—usually rocks, birds, insects, trees, reptiles and amphibians. We prefer the Audubon Pocket Guides or Audubon First Guides because they have photographs, and they cover only those animals, plants, or minerals children are likely to see.

Teach taxonomy. Even young children can learn that there are five types, or Kingdoms, of living things (plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and protists) and that each of these Kingdoms is made up of different kinds of organisms. This doesn’t have to be formally taught, but can be communicated when you are walking (“Trees are plants, and ferns are plants too, but they are different from trees. Have you noticed ways they are alike? Ways they are different?”) Children can also learn to identify rocks, clouds, weather patterns, planets and constellations.

Make your own field guides. When our children were very young we kept an index card box to catalog their “finds.” Whenever one of the boys brought home a critter, we would look it up in a field guide and write out its common name, its classification, and its scientific name from Kingdom down to Genus and Species. After doing this a short while, the boys clearly understood the major taxonomic groupings. We also have traced or cut out the pictures from field guide coloring books and then colored them to make our own field guides. You can make other kinds of guides too, such as cloud types, major constellations, rocks and minerals, etc. The Notesketch Pads are wonderful for making field guides with small children, because there is space at the top of each page for them to sketch an animal or plant or cut out pictures of wildlife they have seen and then a ruled section at the bottom of each page where you or the child can write comments about the picture. We’ve also had great success copying pages from the different Field Guide Coloring Books then cutting out different animals or plants for the boys to color and then paste into their nature journal.

Take frequent nature walks. Don’t expect much the first several walks, but after awhile you will notice your children becoming more observant, patient, and quiet.

Involve all of the senses. Invest in audios of bird songs, frog calls, and night sounds. Learn to recognize signs that animals have been about, through their tracks, scat, or markings. Hear things, smell things, touch things.

Keep a pet in a jar. Some critters make good pets. Consult a field guide as to which ones are better kept in captivity. Habitats can be as simple as a large glass jar and as elaborate as a landscaped terrarium. The book Pets in a Jar: Collecting and Caring for Small Wild Animals has instructions for collection and care of many small wild animals.

Start a nature journal. This may be as simple or as elaborate as you like. It can focus just on trees or on birds or can cover as many life forms as you choose, even the weather and star charts. It can be a combination diary, picture album, field notebook, or whatever you wish. Two excellent examples of nature journals are Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You and How to Keep a Naturalist’s Notebook.

Grow a garden. A garden allows you to effortlessly teach many aspects of plant study. If there’s not room for a vegetable garden try a small patch of flowers. Consider choosing varieties that have medicinal value or that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. These are more interesting to children than the everyday varieties of plants.

Allow the child to have a pet. Pets can open many doors into understanding the natural world. If you can breed an animal (dogs, cats, fish, gerbils, etc.) sex education, genetics, and many other science lessons become effortless.

Feed whatever interest develops. If the child becomes interested in rockets, let him concentrate on building rockets for as long as he is interested. (Watch the movie October Sky  to see where fooling around with rockets can lead.) Ditto: radio controlled planes, electronics, telescopes, leaf collecting, or whatever. Help provide raw materials, literature, and anything else that will support the interest for as long as it lasts.

Set up a Science Learning Center. Find an area of a room or some place in your home where all the science tools and reference materials are kept easily accessible, and also provide places for display of prized collections and for keeping containers for live plants and animals. Homeschool Learning Centers explains how to find the space for a science center and which resource materials should be in it.

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