Fifty years, ago author-environmentalist Rachel Carson said, “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that its gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”
Anyone who has spent time with a young child and shared his or her delight in the simple things—a bug in the grass, a dandelion in seed, a rabbit in the yard—knows that children are born with a sense of wonder. They are curious, eager to learn, and enthusiastic about the world around them. Unfortunately, as children grow into adults, many lose this quality. We live in a neon world where the senses are assaulted daily by loud noises, bright colors, strong aromas, exotic tastes, and the feel of asphalt, metal, and brick. Most moments of wonder are soft and quiet and muted—we must retrain our eyes and ears to even notice them, and we must take the time to appreciate them.
It is certainly possible to experience wonder indoors. Who has not experienced a thrill of awe and happiness when holding a baby, when smelling freshly baked bread, when laughing at good humor among friends? Most moments of wonder, however, occur outdoors within the natural world. One can see a splendid sunset through the living room window, but it is not the same as watching it from a rock, with the breeze blowing and the night falling. One can see a rainbow through the car windshield, but this is less moving than standing out in the rain and feeling a part of the colors that spread across the sky.
The natural world is the lab where a sense of wonder is nurtured and maintained. Here it is possible to take a moment to watch the doe and fawn grazing in an aspen grove, to hear the rustle of the wind in the leaves, to smell the rich odor of the forest floor after a rain. Here there are moments of surprise—when a bluebird darts through the sky, or a white Iris appears in a meadow of purple. Here there are long views and short views.
Although naturalists have known about the values of a sense of wonder forever, it is only recently that youth development experts have begun to collect the research. To no one’s surprise they have learned that an active sense of wonder is positively linked with creativity and imagination, and that children with a sense of wonder have heightened powers of observation and a sense of peace and of being at one with the world. They have discovered that wonder is an important motivator for life long learning, and that children who experience wonder together have more positive feelings about each other.
At camp, we have not only an exceptionally beautiful environment, but also hours, and days, and weeks to appreciate it. Rebuilding the sense of wonder for our campers and our staff is part of our mission. A sense of wonder, however, can be sparked anywhere, anytime. We can enrich our lives by stopping to smell the roses!