“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”
Wonder in the first years of life creates the roots of self-motivation. It is the foundation of a personal connection to the world, the nexus of the self. Wonder cannot be scripted. It arrives unbidden. And while we cannot call forth wonder just wen we want it, we can be expectant. The best a person can do is to be always listening, always watching, open to the possibility that something amazing might come our way, aware that it is possible, or even likely, that the marvelous will arise out of the commonplace, amid the happenings of everyday life. This openness to wonder is a transcendent state we aspire to as adults, yet it is the natural state of young children.
One of the best gifts you can give your toddler and yourself is to find time to join him where he is in that expectant openness, to slow down, to see what they see and hear what they hear, to let go of deadlines, plans, goals, wishes, to just be together. There is no better place to do this than the garden. You might head to the garden with the intention of meandering with your child at her speed, following her interests. Or, you might be working in the garden with your little one nearby, sensitive to noticing a moment that calls you to put down your rake so you can kneel on the damp earth and let your toddler lead the way to the discovery of a blossom or a butterfly or a strawberry or the green spikes of the emerging corn he planted himself.
A toddler’s mood of wonder can be fragile. Protect it by moving slowly, by dwelling in the fullness of silence, by noticing your child’s focus, using only a few carefully chosen words. Above all, don’t direct, explain or praise. When you find your way to becoming a companion to your toddler in an experience of wonder, you will find that time seems to stop. You may enter this realm for only four or five moments, but if you truly connect, if you drink in your child’s amazement, you will return to a place you once knew, a place where you lived as a child, where you feel beckoned to return. It is ironic that grown ups seek distant gurus to guide them to a consciousness of expectant, awareness when focused attention with a toddler, perhaps in a garden, might satisfy our mysterious yearning, might lead us back to the forgotten mindset our own early years. For, wonder is our first home.
Toddlers and young children usually live in a sense of wonder that is not shared with adults. If you think back to your own early years, perhaps you can remember moments of fascination that you did not share, that you could not share, for you did not have the words. Once you re-enter a toddler’s world of wonder, you will be awed by the value of this consciousness. You will want to provide your child with undisturbed time in nature, in a forest, by the sea, in a garden. For many families, a garden is the most accessible natural area. It can be on a balcony, of a tall apartment building, or a single garden bed in a tiny back yard. For a child, it is a place to witness the magic of growth, to know the beauty of life, to find wonder.
Kim Allsup was a class teacher and a gardening teacher in Waldorf Schools. Her teaching memoir, A Gift of Wonder, shows the value of a wonder-centered approach to teaching.