Help develop your kids’ wonder and awe by noticing the little things (and big) in nature.
“Look! Isn’t it boootiful?”
Like many parents, my husband and I often question what mistakes we’re making in raising our children. We can definitely name quite a few! But when one of our sons points out (unprompted) the beauty of a view, the radiance of a sunset, or the smoothness of a stick, we know we’ve done at least one thing right.
Spending time outdoors has always been a family priority. My childhood was spent camping, biking, hiking, canoeing, tidepooling, and I’ve always wanted the same for my own kids.
My husband and I want our kids to grow up loving nature as much as we do. We want them to appreciate nature and to not only see it, but be captivated by it. We don’t want them to take it for granted, but to be environmentally aware and champions of its protection.
I love this quote from Zenobia Barlow:
Children are born with a sense of wonder and an affinity for Nature. Properly cultivated, these values can mature into ecological literacy, and eventually into sustainable patterns of living.
To that end, we strive to foster in our kids a sense of wonder and awe in regards to nature.
A SENSE OF WONDER
In her essay entitled “The Sense of Wonder”, pioneering conservationist Rachel Carson writes:
“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 disenchantment of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”
Wonder is such an important feeling for our kids, preserving their innocence and helping them view the world around them with their “clear-eyed vision”. That sense of wonder can in turn cultivate curiosity and questioning, appreciation and respect, imagination and creativity. Wonder opens our eyes to all the extraordinary things and events in nature.
When given the opportunity to slow down and look around, children are naturally fascinated by the world around them. Time in nature allows them to enjoy that “instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring”.
A FEELING OF AWE
Awe, although somewhat intangible and hard to define, can offer many benefits. It goes beyond the instinctual statement of “wow”, beyond the inspiring moment itself.
According to an article in Psychology Today: “…[S]tudies give a hint of how important the experience of awe may be for many facets of daily life including a sense of belonging, time availability, generosity, spirituality, physical health, humility, and helping behavior. Indeed, awe may be a key to unlocking the best of human nature.”
In a separate article, the same author speaks as a parent, identifying awe as one of the most important things he wants to cultivate for his children: health, mindfulness, curiosity, gratitude, hope. Awe, he says, may be a contributing factor to all of these. “…[P]romoting awe in kids,” he says, “may be one of the keys to unlocking many of the outcomes that we most hope for as they develop.”
Often, when we think about the concept of wonder or awe, we think of big things, amazing things, grandiose things. Although not yet globetrotters, our children have had the fortune of visiting a few very special places in North America: The Canadian Rockies, the Grand Canyon and Acadia National Park are all standouts. The vastness of their vistas can’t help but inspire wonder and awe in our children and anyone else visiting their sights.
But children don’t need grandiose and expansive views to inspire wonder and awe for nature in their daily lives. They’re surrounded by it, and just have to take the time to notice nature’s wonders around them. Children benefit from reminders to stop and take note of what they see: the ant carrying 50 times its weight, the strength and beauty of a spider’s web, the feeling of a creek’s cool water on a hot summer’s day, the twinkling of stars on a clear night.
Children actually excel at noticing the little things, delighting in the simple and small things. “Many children, perhaps because they themselves are small and closer to the ground than we, notice and delight in the small and inconspicuous….Some of nature’s most exquisite handiwork is on a miniature scale…” (Rachel Carson)
Our job is to give them the opportunity to see these wonders, the time to notice them and appreciate them. Pointing out the little (and big) things to children in your time outdoors is a great way to remind them of nature’s beauty, to cultivate wonder and awe.
This, in turn, will help grow a greater appreciation for nature, our place in it, and put some of life’s struggles aside or in perspective. It’s hard to feel sad when viewing a double rainbow, watching a mother bird build a nest, or seeing a wildflower grow in the crack of a sidewalk.
It all starts with a simple step: just going outside.
POINT THINGS OUT
As you walk, point out things that you see and highlight their qualities.
- “Feel how smooth this stone is!”
- “Look how brightly colored that mushroom is!”
- “Stop and listen to the wind through the leaves. Isn’t it beautiful?”
WRITE THEM DOWN
- Keep a notebook, create a note on your phone, or use our worksheet (see bottom of page), building on your list together each time you go out in nature.
THINK OF YOUR FIVE SENSES
- Use the five senses as a basis of your questions: What was the best thing you saw today? What sound did you love hearing today? Did you like the earthy smell of the forest floor?
SPARK INTEREST WITH FUN FACTS
- Learn some fun facts about the natural world around you, share them with your kids. Point out relevant sightings on your outdoor adventures.
- Did you know that chipmunks hide their acorns in thousands of different caches?
- I read that a spider’s silk is one of the strongest natural materials on earth!
- Can you believe that monarchs travel as many as 100 miles a day during migration?
MODEL YOUR OWN WONDER AND AWE
- Model your own sense of wonder or awe, expressing audibly your feeling of “wow”. Don’t keep these thoughts to yourself, but share them widely! Don’t hold back!
MAKE A RECORD
- Create a special album of photos to document things in Nature that your kids found beautiful, interesting, or amazing. This will serve both as a book of memories and a record of all the things you’ve discovered and enjoyed in nature.
MAKE IT A ROUTINE
- Before bed, ask your kids to list their favorite things from the day, the things that made an impression and helped them appreciate nature even more.
Let’s encourage our kids to contemplate the natural world around us and to stand in wonder and awe at its beauty. Keep track of your favorite things in nature, talk about them as a family, and see how this experience can help foster your kids’ wonder and awe.
“What is the value of preserving and strengthening this sense of awe and wonder, this recognition of something beyond the boundaries of human existence? 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 vexation or concerns 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…”Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder