Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Sense of Wonder

Night Sky

"I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel.  If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. . . Once the emotions have been aroused -- a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love -- then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response.  Once found, it has lasting meaning.  It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate."
                                                                                           --Rachel Carson, 1956

In Rachel Carson's words I hear echos of Liberty Hyde Bailey's writings on nature study. . .

"Knowledge begins  in wonder.  The consciousness of ignorance is the first result of wonder, and it leads the pupil on and on:  it is the spirit of inquiry."  
                                                                                    --L.H.Bailey, Nature-Study Idea, 1909

The fact that these sentiments are voiced throughout the ages is no surprise to me.  I think we were gifted by our ancient ancestors with the natural ability of seeing the world through eyes of wonder.  A sense of wonder is as rooted in our hearts and minds as the desire to be known or the need to belong.  We are born into wonder and it is the beginnings of knowledge.  Wonder is in our DNA.

I can never forget one evening with my son John as a four year old.  We had attended an evening Halloween party at his preschool and as we left the party it was truly dark outside. We walked into the parking lot and the entire night sky was filled with stars.  John stopped dead in his tracks and stared skyward.  I followed suit and we both stood there gazing.  I might have said something, I don't remember.  Perhaps I pointed out the big dipper (pretty much all the star knowledge I know), perhaps I commented on the beauty, I have no memory of conversation.  What is memorable was us simply staring in absolute wonder.  I'm not sure there were words to capture those moments of awe.  I'm guessing if words were shared they were as quiet whispers.  The whole time, parents and children were filing out to their cars leaving us the last two in the parking lot.  It was John's first time seeing a night sky and that night it was my first time seeing the night sky through his eyes.  Lucky me.  Later, he would dream of becoming an astronaut.  Much later, he would take a college course on astronomy.  He has always had a fascination with the vastness of the sky and this universe.  Today, he is a writer and a student.  He continues to be filled with wonder.  I hope his wonder never ends.

Student taking a picture of
a monarch just released
Large milkweed bugs

My students are learning about organisms in science this marking period.  Our monarch butterflies have been a perfect introduction to the world of insects.  On Friday, we went out exploring the milkweed patch in search of additional insects that live on this hardy plant.  Students brought out their Chromebooks with the goal of taking pictures of the various insects we hoped to see and that we had learned inhabit milkweed.  The milkweed was filled with beetles and bugs and the students were highly engaged trying to capture photos of the various creatures.  One student at the end of the patch yelled out, "I've found aphids!!!!"  The entire group rushed over to check out the clusters of aphids on a milkweed stalk.  It seems a small wonder, aphids and milkweed bugs, but these students were filled with it.  I would like to take credit for their wonder, but I cannot.  It is in our DNA to be fascinated with the world around us.  It's what makes us human and gives us hope for a future we can't even imagine.

Whether staring at the vastness of a night sky or tiny aphids, we have the potential to be filled with wonder in this world.  It has been written about by poets and scientists alike --painted on cave dwellings and expressed on computer laptops.  To see the world with wonder is why we are here.   Happy wonderings!

"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 the sources of our strength."  --Rachel Carson