I love the word “wonder.” To me, it is onomatopoetic, and hearing the word, I cannot help but feel curious, a bit reverential and in awe. I call my favorite humane education activity the “Wonder Walk“ because it elicits wonder, which in turn elicits love, trust, marvel, curiosity and a desire to protect and care for this unfathomably beautiful world.
Educator and designer Christian Long’s new TEDx talk, “Wonder by Design,” explores how we can bring wonder into 21st century schooling and design. In a world in which technology suffuses all aspects of our lives, where interior landscapes absorb so much of our time and schools house our children during the lion’s share of each weekday, Long invites us to ask how setting, design and learning can be oriented toward wonder. I particularly enjoyed hearing about his month-long expedition with students, during which they allowed curiosity and wonder, rather than plans and maps, to lead them, and where collecting stories became their goal. In story lies wonder: wonder about others’ experiences, and wonder about the paradoxes of simplicity within complexity, joy within sorrow, similarity amidst difference, solution within confusion.
While love may ground our impulses toward kindness; generosity, our impulses toward goodness; and integrity, our impulses toward responsibility and truthfulness; wonder grounds our impulses toward creativity, learning and the ability to make connections that lead to solutions. In today’s complex societies, where economies and production are globalized, where knowledge is communal and learning about anything is a click away, wonder may be the most important cognitive process to nurture. Potential global catastrophes, from climate change to rapid extinction of species to resource depletion to pollution, loom amidst an ever-growing human population. Such a world demands inquiry, innovation and communication across all boundaries, whether geographical, cultural, socioeconomic or religious.
If, in school, we ignore our children’s particular moment in history, bore them, erode their natural wonder and inquisitiveness rather than cultivate it, or squander their precious time, we further endanger our world. Today’s youth will not need to have memorized the names and dates of presidents, the ever-changing maps of Europe over millennia, or many other facts that generations without computers had to memorize in order for knowledge to be accessible and useful. They will need, above all, abounding resources of curiosity, creativity and critical thinking and collaborative skills, all fostered by their capacity for wonder.
So here are four ideas for cultivating wonder, in yourself, your children and/or among your students:
1. Using technology: Visit three websites dedicated to creating positive change. Choose one from a Google search on human rights or social justice, one from a search on environmental preservation or sustainability, and one from a search on animal protection, rights or welfare. Find points of both confluence and tension, and allow wonder about the human capacity to contribute to justice, humaneness and care to elicit potential solutions for helping people, animals and the environment simultaneously.
2. In nature: Do the Wonder Walk with a partner, friend, child, teen or grandparent. Reflect upon the emotions evoked by the exercise and the actions they may elicit.
3. In community: Invite a diverse group of eight to 10 people to come together. Choose people of different socioeconomic, religious and educational backgrounds, and of various ages and life experiences. Send out a curiosity-inducing invitation asking all to come prepared to share an issue about which they care deeply and to explain why. Invite each person to speak for five minutes and answer questions from the group for another five minutes. When everyone, including you, has spoken, invite all to reflect, in writing or meditation, for an additional 10 minutes about what they learned and if/how the experience changed them. Allow everyone to share in a sentence some element of his or her writing or meditation with the group.
4. In school: Do the previous activity with students, making an effort to bring together kids whom you know do not socialize, attend the same classes or participate in the same afterschool activities.
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