DEAR MR. DAD: I remember my own childhood as a time of wonder, but we always seem to be flying in different directions all the time, and the kids don’t get time to just stare into space and be amazed. How can parents in a typical, busy, overscheduled family encourage a sense of wonder in their kids?

All sorts of developmental windows are open wide during childhood – for learning languages, for instilling values, for developing musical and verbal abilities, and more.

Childhood is also the time when we form attitudes about the world around us. Whether you see your life as something to be “gotten on with” or as an infinite source of wonder and amazement has a lot to do with how you spent your first years in the world. Developing a sense of wonder requires time, opportunity and practice. Here are a few ways you can get the process started.

If you want your kids to experience wonder as a regular part of childhood, they must have unstructured time. Ironically, you might have to schedule it to be sure they get it!

Minimize screen time. Help your kids find hobbies and interests that will engage their own creativity and reflection.

Choose wonder-inducing family activities. Not every outing has to be an opportunity to ponder the meaning of life, but work in the occasional trip to the zoo, the aquarium, the science museum, the planetarium, or even a simple walk in the woods. It’s in places like these that kids begin to see the world in a different way.

Gadgets and toys (which includes playground equipment) are great – up to a point. The problem is that they’re also very limiting. A toy car is just a toy car. But with a bit of imagination, the box that car came in could be an airplane, a whale, a rocket ship, or anything else.

Everyday things get more wonderfully strange the more you look and learn. Watch a hummingbird at a feeder. Stay up late for a meteor shower. Get yourself a Venus flytrap.

Ask for help. If you need some ideas on how to ferret out the magic that’s just beneath the everyday surface, consider subscribing to magazines like National Geographic Kids, watching (together) programs like Nova and the Discovery Channel, visiting science-related websites, or going to the zoo or the nearest science or natural history museum.

Once kids get a taste of the wonder that’s all around them, you won’t have to prompt them a bit – they’ll lead the way. But it’s up to you to get the ball rolling by giving them the three things they need – time, opportunity and practice.

Contact Armin Brott, by e-mail: [email protected], or visit his Web site:

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