Monthly Practice: Wonder Projects

Some of the most delightful times I’ve spent with my children came recently as we read aloud together Frances Burnett’s The Secret Garden. The story captivated them and sparked great discussions before bed. Do you think Dickon could really talk with the animals? Did the garden actually heal Colin? Or was he never really that sick in the first place? I wish I had a secret garden …

The beauty of the book for me was in the delight the children found in the ‘magic’ of the garden. They spent long periods of time observing what was happening there: “And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles.”

The fantastic thing is that the ‘magic’ they refer to is actually just the incredible way that God has ordered this world. It was the observing of spring time and the expression of all the delightful things the season brings with it.

“There’s naught as nice as th’ smell o’ good clean earth, except th’ smell o’ fresh growin’ things when th’ rain falls on ’em.”

Today’s cultural climate has us desiring for things to be better than reality. It’s not enough for a green sprout to poke through from the soil, grow taller and taller, form a bud, and then bloom into a beautiful tulip. The most recent film version of Burnett’s classic story has the garden ‘come alive’ with trees whose leaves change colour with each shift of the breeze and branches that twist and move to assist a child climbing it.

When did the wonder of God’s creation stop being magical enough? And how do I cultivate in my children a wonder that will deepen and broaden as they grow rather than diminish and, potentially, disappear?

In order to be people who are full of wonder, our children need to be people who pay attention. Charlotte Mason, an English educator from the turn of the twentieth century, speaks of the habit of paying attention, suggesting that it’s not something we are naturally gifted with but something we need to practise and develop. In a world where we have never had so many things vying for our attention, it has become clear to me that I need to be intentional about developing this habit … for my children, and for myself.

Mason suggests that one of the best ways to strengthen these muscles is to be outside in nature as much as possible. She states within her writings to “never be within doors when you can rightly be out,” and she would take her students on nature walks daily. As part of these nature walks, the children would make entries into their “nature journals.” These might be made up of words, describing in detail something they had observed, or the entry may be a drawing, visually recording all of those same details.

Whichever way the student chose to record their observations, it required them to linger in the moment. The pause taken to document the subject allowed the student to pay close attention. When we pay close attention, we get more understanding, and we leave the moment with a sense of awe and wonder.

There are so many wonder-full things in our world and, I’m sure, many ways of helping our children to notice them. This one, to me, feels doable. Next time we’re heading outside to play or taking our scooters to the park, I might just pop some notebooks and colouring pencils in the bag.

My goal? To look a little bit longer, to smell a little bit deeper, and to listen a little bit harder.

In other words, to increase the wonder.

Pictured below are photos from some of our family’s “Wonder Projects,” including Fairy Gardens, beach exploration, and nature journaling.

(Image: Top, from The Secret Garden, Inga Moore; Others, Supplied)