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."1
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!2
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
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 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
- 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
- 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.
- Children are encouraged to voice their emotions and to talk
about their hurts and fears with attentive, responsive
- Children can choose play activities based on their own
feelings of interest and boredom and not the decisions of
- 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
Wonder becomes possible when children can risk being themselves
without there being any risk at all.