You don’t have to have all the answers. Resist the urge to answer or supply the “correct response” and allow the exploration of wonder and imagination. Through trial, error and discovery, children unravel the mystery of the world at their own pace.
Rene Descartes says wonder is “a sudden surprise of the soul which makes it tend to consider attentively those objects which seem to it rare and extraordinary¹.”
When our babies are born, we stare at them, sleepless for days. We sit, waiting for the tiniest sounds, watching the expressions flit across our newborn’s face. Our world goes from the macro to the micro. We are transfixed.
This is wonder.
Soon after, we notice how our babies minutely observe the world. Finn would often gaze at the undersides of the leaves as we carried him through the forest. We called him “The Botanist.” His interest sparked our own, and we bought a book about these local trees. From this moment, we acknowledge that wonder is “the seed of knowledge².” We explore the world together.
Children are born explorers and scientists. Neil deGrasse Tyson says that “an adult scientist is a kid who never grew up³.” Somehow, scientists never stop asking the “I wonder…” questions. Our challenge, as parents, is to support children’s curiosity and wonder, and hopefully, reignite our own.
The phrase “I wonder” can launch us, both child and adult, into open-ended exploration. “I wonder why…” asked repeatedly is the basis of all science. Somewhere around age 2 1/2, the repeated questions start.
“Look!” James points up. “What’s that!? What’s that!?”
I crouch down, then follow his gaze up to the bright white lines cutting across the blue sky. “I see it! I wonder what it is, James!” I squash my need to check whether the correct term is contrails or jet trails. This is his discovery.
He turns to me, excitedly. “It’s a space ship!”
He watches the contrails widen before they disappear. His wonder is contagious. We both believe we see the space ship.
A woman walks by. “It’s an airplane.” We both look at her. I’m surprised that I feel so deflated.
Later in the afternoon, James’ wonder returns as a cardboard box becomes a shuttle craft. We imagine what it would be like to fly.
I notice he’s saying “I wonder…” all afternoon. He experiments. Cardboard flies across the room. Rather than stopping the play at the first sign of potential destruction, I put on the Moose puppet. Moose seems to be repeating the phrases “I wonder” and “I wonder why.” James explains everything to Moose.
I notice that something interesting is happening. If I don’t jump in with the answer, this child, the scientist, figures it out for himself. I hear, “I wonder why the ship is wet?” Of course, the space ship has knocked the water over.
I wonder why…
Explore your world together
Take them into interesting environments
Restrict their movement as little as possible
Follow their curiosity
Engage all their senses
Actively listen and respond
It’s okay to say “I don’t know”
Just ask “I wonder why…”