Looking through the images which are being entered in the National Geographic Travel Photographer of the year contest, I was particularly struck by one entitled Lighting the Way. The photographer’s description of his own image was as beautiful as the image he captured:

Watching as rays of light pierce the parting rain clouds near Summit Lake, British Columbia. Evoking thoughts that the Creator paused for a moment to bless whatever lay in that patch of grassy woodland along the shimmering ridge.

Some of my fondest memories are of my parents cultivating in me a sense of wonder by pondering beauty. They didn’t do anything extraordinary, and I suspect they were mostly trying to keep us busy and out of mischief, but they made use of child friendly ways to introduce me and my brothers and sisters to the amazement and admiration that can be caused by the beautiful, remarkable or unfamiliar.

There were story writing competitions to keep us occupied in the holidays, story books to be read over and over, attempts at perfume making, discovering nature in the great outdoors, watching the clouds and looking at the stars.

When we were older the wonder weaving moved to exploring the planet on a bigger scale and we were encouraged to go and see the amazing places that make up the natural world, the incredible diversity of humanity and the unfathomably complex structures of the ancient and modern world.

These all have one thing in common, they all began with wonder and continue to give to their viewers that same sense as when their creation was first contemplated. We haven’t seen the whole world by any stretch of the imagination, but our sense of wonder is well and truly alive.

In a world of flashing screens and glossy images that call our attention away to the superficial, materialistic perfection that we are told we all want and need, helping children to discover the wonder of living in the real world is more important than ever.

Wonder is the experience of being dazzled while keeping one’s feet firmly on the ground, rather than wandering into the dizziness of escapism.

Socrates said, “wonder is the beginning of wisdom,” and Dr Peter Haiman,  who has been a childrearing consultant for over 30 years, agrees. Here are some of his ideas on how parents can go about Developing a Sense of Wonder in Young Children:

  • 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 mould 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 humour, 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.

In a world that has largely lost its sense of wonder, below are some ways to foster this beautiful gift in children’s lives. They will rarely be bored; rather, forever grateful, and future generations will thank you for your efforts.

Helena Adeloju is editor of Family Edge. She writes from Melbourne.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is a New Zealand journalist with a special interest in family issues. She began her working life as a secondary school teacher but always fancied the life of the scribe. Too late, she...