Help a child to wonder

Rachel Carson never married or had children, but when her niece, who was single, had a baby in 1952, she took both of them under her wing.

A few years later, Carson’s niece abruptly died, and Carson, who was almost 50, adopted her grand-nephew, Roger.

During the school year, Carson and Roger lived in Silver Spring, Md., but they spent summers on Southport Island, Maine, where Carson introduced the little boy to nature. They dug up seashells, waded in tide pools, and listened for the dawn chorus of birds.

Those experiences inspired Carson to write an essay, “Help Your Child to Wonder,” that first appeared in Woman’s Home Companion and was later published as a short book, The Sense of Wonder.

It’s not important that children know about nature, Carson argues in the essay; what matters is that they delight in it.

But they won’t unless they’re shown the way, she warned:

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.

If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her 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 the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.