Pathways to Wonder & Awe

The first time I saw flying fish, I was overcome with amazement. They looked like silvery stars twinkling in the waves as they leap away from a boat wake. School after school jumped and hovered briefly in the air before disappearing under water again. People around me were pointing and shouting “There! There!” It was wondrous!

Awe and wonder are spiritual experiences. They provide children with a sense of magical connection to whatever inspires them. They capture kids’ attention and inspire curiosity. They disrupt children’s routines and offer a new sense of possibilities. They may stir kids’ creativity and awaken new insights.

Yet many children (and adults) suffer from a deficit of wonder and awe. They have few opportunities to gape in amazement. Instead, they spend a lot of time in rote activities or trying to pay attention as someone else explains concepts they are expected to learn. Even when the learning process is ‘fun’, it lacks the deeper connections generated by an awe-inspiring experience.

Furthermore, studies have found that moments of wonder actually increase children’s attentiveness to whatever comes after. They are more likely to ask questions, not only about what awed them but also about other subjects. They are also in a better mood, which has a positive impact on their learning. These are all potential reasons for adults to foster experiences of awe and wonder when working with kids.

One reliable source of awe and wonder is nature. Many children are drawn to the symmetry of a leaf or the colorful dance of a flower. They marvel at the rapid beat of a hummingbird’s wings or ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at photos of galaxies taken by the Webb Telescope. Begin a group session with a time for wonder using natural objects or nature-themed photos. Or build in wonder breaks like you would pause for a stretch or refreshments.

People can also be sources of wonder and awe. Seeing another excel at an activity or exhibit enviable character traits can motivate children to work harder or stand firmer in their convictions. Invite children to tell stories about people who amaze them. Encourage them to notice patterns among their examples and reflect on what those similarities might mean in terms of their own personal and communal goals.

Moving in unison can generate a sense of awe or wonder as well. Kids sometimes experience this in dance, yoga or taekwondo classes, but it can occur more informally or spontaneously as well. Try a simple movement meditation, using a ‘follow the leader’ approach where children imitate your actions. Or put on music and invite children to dance with you. Chances are their movements will begin to synchronize, eliciting a few moments of what experts call “collective effervescence”.

Wonder can also be evoked through the use of communal rituals. A secret handshake, formulaic greeting, set of coded signals promote a sense of connectedness, which is wondrous. Invite children to develop a shared ritual that relates to your group’s purpose or what they are learning. You might also identify different signs for character virtues or community values and use them whenever someone sees that virtue or value in action.



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