A Sense of Wonder


To see the world through a child’s eyes……

I love the look of wonder on a small child’s face when they discover something new. Our world, which we sometimes think of as ruined, boring or hard work, is brand new and exciting to a small child. They passionately want to explore, touch, taste and feel everything around them. What do we convey to them about our world when we rush and hurry through the day, trying to meet the deadlines rather than stopping to smell the flowers? Are we crushing their wonder underfoot (“Don’t touch – dirty!”) …or celebrating each new discovery with them?

Wonders of Nature

Why do we not sometimes think to watch and learn from a child? Do we always know best? If we could see the world as a child sees, surely life would become an amazing adventure!

Looking at birds in the trees and trying to guess what they are saying to each other as they build their nests:

“These leaves look like feathers! Is it a bird flower?”

Just discovering the different shapes of seed pods, and which flowers we can eat, was hugely exciting for this little girl.

“God is SO amazing!”

Possibilities Are Everywhere

Would it be possible for us to spend an hour wandering down a stretch of road examining every crack in an old wall and making up stories about the mice or fairies who might live in there? Or wade through a field of long grass, finding the most beautiful butterfly, the fluffiest grasses and the tiniest flower in the world? Do we ever pick up a feather to see how soft it is? Make a finger-hat from an acorn cup? Or find a broken bird’s egg with an embryo chick inside… without wanting to bin it? Every now and then I make time to do these things with my ‘borrowed’ two year old while the older children are at school, and we have a truly lovely day. It’s even more fun when the others can join us in the holidays.


The Wonder of Death

Children can also be fascinated with death; to them, it’s just another, rather intriguing, part of life that for some reason grown-ups are rather secretive about. The four year old I look after has a real interest in it, and is always asking me about Heaven, God and the devil, how people die and what death means. She loves looking at the picture of the Selfish Giant in her book, dead and peaceful on a carpet of petals. I have decided not to spoil her innocent curiosity with notions of horror and disgust.

We adults have built up all sorts of belief systems around death. It is presumed morbid to want to talk about death. But young children don’t have our taboos and fears, unless we choose to pass them on. Finding a newly dead animal or insect is really exciting to them. (I’m not advocating showing them something rotting!) But it could stimulate curiosity and compassion to discover something like this little baby bird who has fallen out of his nest. A child would be fascinated to see how his feathers are just starting to grow and where his ear holes are.

Children don’t learn that death could be disgusting or fearful, unless we show revulsion or horror. In my experience, the sight of a dead animal doesn’t upset small children. They don’t really understand the deeper emotions of grief and sadness until they are older and lose a loved relative or pet. Unless a small child has already been through some deep personal loss of this kind, they can’t comprehend or relate this emotion to the sight of a dead animal. Sadness for most children is losing a favourite toy or cutting their knee. They might empathise with the ‘owie’ if there is blood on the animal, and ask how he died. But they’d be more likely to want to examine the silky fur or leathery wings. They might never get to see a squirrel or bat up close in real life until they find a dead one.

Cuddle squirrel

They don’t have to touch (although they will probably want to) but if they do, you can always wash their hands afterwards. The experience could be an occasion for wonder and learning. The small boy above still remembers with joy the day he found a ‘real squirrel friend’, three years later!

Finding a real creature to explore close up is often a fascinating experience for a child….

Look how beautiful these feathers are! What name could you give these colours?

This still, beautiful creature who is not breathing…is this what dead means? a child might ask himself.

Why does this funny little animal have such very big ears and such tiny eyes?

One day when my three nanny-children had some friends round to play, they found a beautiful dead bee in the garden. This caused much animated discussion. All five of them rallied round to draw bee pictures for sympathy cards, then trooped around the garden to organise a bee funeral. The bee was wrapped in flower petals and carefully laid under a bush, with a sign saying ‘Dead Bee’ and the bee pictures. They said prayers to help him get to bee heaven, which they visualised as a giant flower. This game stimulated their imaginations and was an important role play for them to explore what people do when someone dies. It was as natural for them as playing doctors and nurses.

Would you prefer your child to be horrified by death or simply see it as something natural and part of life?

The four year old sees it very simply. She loves hearing the story of how my father died, in a forest surrounded by bluebells. “When my daddy gets to Heaven, your daddy can give him a ride on the back of his bike!” 

I believe keeping a child’s sense of wonder alive is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. If we as adults can continue to nurture that wonder, encouraging exploration and discovery, that child could grow up to be a great inventor, thinker, poet, painter, explorer or encourager of others.

Yes, of course they will one day have to understand the worldly realities of money, greed, strife, war, disease, pain, poverty… but what if they had the resilience and strength to sail through it all with some sense of inner joy because their foundations were built on wonder and not discouragement?

About Cathy Owen

I have enjoyed working and playing with children for over 20 years, starting with a holiday job as mother's helper to two different families and babysitting for neighbours from the age of 17. My experience since then includes working with children from 3 months to 12 years, in schools, nurseries, toddler groups and homes, as a teacher assistant, play leader, special needs facilitator, after school and holiday club supervisor/planner, childminder, and currently as a private nanny and creative play specialist. My Discovery Boxes developed out of my observation and interaction with young children and a desire to enter and enrich their world. Children are our greatest teachers; their imagination has a magical quality that makes the world a more exciting and wondrous place. I love nothing better than to join them in this adventure that is life and see where we can journey together! To learn more about my way of working, see my posts.

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