Seeing the world with wonderment and awe

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“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”
– Albert Einstein

This Habit of Mind is one you’ll find in any great thinker, from the ancient Greeks to the brainiest scientists of our modern century. Indeed, you could argue that it is this very ability to be awed that results in the successful, creative and critical thinking that we are trying to encourage in this series. After all, you cannot decide what is worth thinking about, or what is pursuing, unless you can find things to wonder at, and things to be awed by.

We want our children to be intrigued by the beauty that we can find in nature, awed by the vastness of the universe, and to have space in their minds for the surprises – both big and small – that come up in life.

So, how do we go about encouraging this in our children? How do we fill them with wonder and awe – and then how do we get them to think about it?

Create the experience
Nothing is less full of wonder than an over-planned, over-orchestrated and over-marketed experience. It is important to expose our children to situations where they can be filled with wonder and awe, and it is also important to let the experience unfold naturally and organically, at your child’s pace (and not yours).

Think of the different ways that people travel. You can be astounded by the majesty of the Sistine Chapel or the Pyramids of Giza, even in a crowd, if you take a moment to reflect on what you’re seeing with your own eyes. It is much more difficult to have that experience if you’re on a whistle-stop tour of the sights, with a tour guide chattering endlessly on in your ear. So, give your child the experiences and the time to be their own guide.

Immerse them in nature – no matter what your budget is, there’s a way to step into the flow and experience Mother Nature in all her power and glory. You could spend thousands on an expensive safari to see elephants and lions, or you could spend the day rambling through the less popular trails of Bukit Timah. No matter how you do it, remember to set your phone to silent, put your fancy camera down, and let your surroundings in to create your own, unfiltered experience.

If you can, spend the night somewhere far from the light pollution of our city to let your children be dazzled by the night sky –spend a night on a kelong, take a trip to a quiet beach in Desaru, or while away an afternoon at the planetarium. Either way, let your child experience the infinite size of our universe, and contemplate just how small we are in relation to it.

Process the experience
No matter what sort of experiences you have, what’s important is to follow it up with some discussion or learning to make the most of it. The real value in experiencing moments of wonder and awe comes when you reflect on how the experience made you feel.

Questions to ask include:
- What did you feel (when you saw X or heard Y)?
- What did you find amazing? Why?
- What do you want to find out more about?
- What is this experience similar to?

The idea is to spark a quest for learning and knowledge. Maybe your child can journal their answers, or maybe the act of asking will spur them to research what they can do solo, or together with you. Show them that you are awed too. Marvel at the world together, learn together and grow together. And don’t forget to have fun!


This is part 12 of a 16-part series on Habits of Mind. Follow the series here.

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