Dear Mr. Dad: I remember being a child and constantly being amazed. But it seems like life is moving much more quickly these days and my own kids never get the luxury of just staring at the stars. Is there some way that today’s overscheduled families can slow down and rekindle that sense of wonder?
A: Childhood is filled with all sorts of developmental windows—it’s when we learn to speak and read, learn values, discover talents and passions, and much more. But those windows don’t stay open forever.
Childhood is also the time when our attitudes and beliefs about the world around us are formed. How you spent your first few years goes a long way toward determining whether you’re a nose-to-the-grindstone person or a head-in-the-clouds one. Developing that sense of wonder you remember so fondly requires three things: time, opportunity, and practice. Here are a few ways to jump-start the process.
Scheduled is good. Overscheduled is not. If you want your kids to experience wonder during their childhood, they must have unstructured time. Ironically, sometimes the only way to ensure they get enough of it is to schedule it.
Power down. Time in front of a TV, phone, or other screen is time spent seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. Help your kids find hobbies and interests that will engage their own creativity and reflection.
Choose wonder-inducing family activities. Not every outing has to be an opportunity to ponder the meaning of life, but work in the occasional trip to the zoo, the aquarium, the science museum, the planetarium, or even a simple walk in the woods. Places like these encourage kids to see the world in different ways.
Fewer toys = more imagination. Gadgets and toys (which includes playground equipment) are great — up to a point. But they’re also very limiting. A toy car is just a toy car. But with a bit of imagination, the box that car came in could be an airplane, a whale, a rocket ship, or anything else.
Point out the wonder in the everyday. You don’t have to stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon or stare at a nebula through a telescope to experience wonder. Every day things get more wonderfully strange the more you look and learn. Watch a hummingbird at a feeder. Stay up late for a meteor shower. Raise a Venus flytrap.
Think about these. Here are a few concepts that always have me marveling.
• If you take the history of the universe from the Big Bang to today and shrink it down to a single year, humans would appear on December 31st at 10:30 pm.
• Every atom in your body has been around since the beginning of time and has passed through several stars, not to mention countless people, plants and animals, before becoming part of you.
• Our planet is zipping along at around 900 miles an hour right beneath our feet.
• Through the wonder of DNA, you are literally half your mom and half your dad, and a complete blueprint to build you exists in each and every cell of your body.
• The faster you go, the slower time moves.
• All life on Earth is related. You’re a cousin (a pretty distant one) of the Sequoia and the amoeba, of mosses, blue whales, and butterflies.
Once kids get a taste of the wonder that’s all around them, you won’t have to prompt them a bit — they’ll lead the way. But it’s up to you to get the ball rolling by giving them the three things they need — time, opportunity, and practice.
Previously published on Mr. Dad
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