…and why it is so important to protect and nurture it?

“There must be provision for the child to have contact with nature; to understand and appreciate the order, the harmony and the beauty in nature.” Maria Montessori.

We are all born with an innate sense of wonder, a feeling of awe and amazement at the world around us and a sense that anything is possible.  We have a curiosity to be wowed and fascinated by even the smallest thing. Children often ask “why” and search for answers with a wide open mind.  The natural world is particularly apt at stimulating our ability to find magic in the ordinary. It is something that is still greater than us and all our technology.

On a Sunday while walking in Delta Park I passed a young family, mom and dad and two young daughters.  The youngest was a little girl around three years old, she had spotted a bird and was calling out urgently to her family, “a bird, there’s a bird”, over and over and dad replied dismissively,” yes it’s a bird” and carried on walking.   I was saddened to see this and felt that it was such a perfect opportunity for the children to stop and look at the bird, yes it was a bird but it was a Blacksmith Lapwing, beautiful colours….black, white and some grey. He had long legs and was bigger than some birds but much smaller than the Hadedas that were digging in the grass with their long beaks. Learning about colours, comparing the sizes of the different birds around, stop and listen to the sound it was making and just to appreciate the beauty of the creature.   

Having a sense of wonder is a beautiful thing that helps us stay creative, solve problems (it is the core of all scientific inquiry) but also because it is what keeps us rooted in nature.  Without that connection children risk becoming encapsulated in a human – centric bubble and may view nature as a mere source of resources to be mined, rather than a web of life of which they are an integral part.  And if that happens, chances are they will never fully grasp the need to protect nature.

We all lead such busy lives but take some time out with your children in nature, walk slowly with them at their pace, be ready to answer questions as best you can. Take along a bag to collect sticks, stones, seeds feathers and other treasures. They have a natural curiosity for the world around them, allow this natural curiosity to help build an independent person who is free to make choices and make discoveries.  Contact with nature affords opportunities for rich sensorial experiences, it also supports the whole child – body, mind and soul and most important promotes a respect and love for all living things.

Sasol has a wonderful series of books, My first Book of South African Birds, Mammals, Reptiles etc.

I believe children’s sense of wonder and awe (and adults for that matter) is like a muscle of the mind, if we nourish it correctly, it will grow stronger and if we neglect it, it will become weaker.

Things that can diminish a child’s sense of wonder:

  • Not having enough opportunity to play outside
  • Excessive screen time
  • Adults constantly dictating the child’s play in an attempt to educate
  • Having too many toys that don’t stimulate creativity
  •  A hectic lifestyle packed with structured activities and instant gratification

Things that can boost a child’s sense of wonder:

  • Ample time to explore nature hands on
  • Not having a particular plan or agenda when playing outside
  • Adults acting as co-discovers who encourage the child’s inquisitiveness with gentle guidance
  • Open ended “toys” found in nature, sticks, rocks, leaves, seeds, water and mud, secret hide-outs
  • A slow lifestyle that allows the child to become bored in order for creativity to blossom