A Natural Sense of Wonder: Connecting Kids with Nature Through the Seasons
In A Natural Sense of Wonder: Connecting Kids with Nature Through the Seasons (2008), I invoke the spirit of Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder. With my (and other) children I describe the pleasures of walking in a creek, digging for salamanders, and learning to appreciate vultures. Through these and other “walks to school,” we discover what lives nearby, what nature has to teach, and why this matters. From the backyard to the hiking trail, in a tide pool and a tree house, in the wild and in town, these narrative essays explore the terrain of childhood threatened by the lure of computers and television, by fear and the loss of play habitat, showing how kids thrive in their special places. In chronicling my determination (and at times frustration) to get my kids outside, A Natural Sense of Wonder suggests ways kids both young and old can experience the wonder found only in the natural world.
Unlike much nature writing, which features a solitary appreciative consciousness alone in the wilderness, I try to capture the voices of children—their wonder, discovery, and surprise—and their interaction with their adult field guides. I also map the “geography of childhood” (an earlier work on the subject) but a decade later, when the pressures against getting kids outside have become greater. David Sobel, author of Beyond Ecophobia and Wild Play wrote in a review that “whereas Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods is issues oriented and broadly sociological, A Natural Sense of Wonder is hands on.” Scholastic Magazine named it one of the ten best books for teachers in the summer of 2008. A Natural Sense of Wonder won the 2008 Phillip D. Reed Memorial Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern Environment. A short version appeared in Blue Ridge Country.
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Praise for A Natural Sense of Wonder
"The greatest virtue of Van Noy's lean and thoughtful book isn't his thesis, now proved by oceans of evidence about increased obesity and decreased attention spans, or even his graceful and penetrating prose; it's the witty ways he draws his two children and their friends outside, away from the electric drug - taking the long way to school, poking headlong into every vacant lot, building a treehouse, wandering off on birding adventures, hiking with other families, so that the day isn't a Boring Family Outing but motley play, skating, wading in creeks, salamandering, poking in tide pools, running around in the dark chasing lightning bugs, and, well, just puttering around with open eyes and ears... I suspect nothing could be as useful, as generative of joy and mercy, as energizing and refreshing, as nakedly holy, as a faucet of wonder that never shuts off; and if we really do love and savor children as much as we say we do, if we really think them the heart of what we might be at our best, the secrets that might heal the bruised and broken world, we can give them nothing more crucial and nutritious than that."
- the late Brian Doyle, author of Mink River and Martin Marten, in Orion
"The question of how parents should appropriately connect their children with nature is accessibly and gently articulated here. This is a great book for a wide range of parents and is full of the realities of parenting in a postmodern age. Whereas Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods is issues oriented and broadly sociological, A Natural Sense of Wonder is hands on."
-David Sobel, author of Beyond Ecophobia
"A Natural Sense of Wonder is a wonderful, timely, and much needed lyrical reminder of the fundamental importance of children's ongoing experience of nature as the basis of creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, and so much more that ultimately makes us human. People evolved in close association with the natural world and consequently became genetically encoded to maintain this association as the wellspring of their physical, mental, and even moral and spiritual condition. This is, of course, most true and relevant in children's maturation and development. Van Noy's book is a profoundly moving, powerful, and eloquent reminder of this basic truth with which our modern society, estranged from nature, has lost touch to it's ultimate detriment."
- Stephen R. Kellert, co-editor of Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations
"All parents, take note! In this enthusiastic and poetic drift of essays, Van Noy sets out to unveil the natural world for his children and finds himself on his own voyage of discovery. Walking in the footsteps of Rachel Carson, who believed that nature provided young people an 'inner resource of strength' to last a lifetime, Van Noy seeks to imbue children with wonder. This book, which moves at the delightful pace of a summer's day, is filled with the passion of a good naturalist and the sensibilities of a loving parent. Its motherlode chapter, 'Dirt World,' which offers advice on how to get children outdoors, is worth the price of the book."
-Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood
"'Here's something!' says Van Noy's daughter when she spots a snail trail on their sidewalk, and her father pays attention. A Nature Sense of Wonder is filled with explorations of such 'ordinary enchantments' too often lost in the swirl of our hyper-scheduled lives. Van Noy treats his children and his reader with warmth and respect, seamlessly squeezing a good deal of natural history, etymology, and literary savvy into his stories of snot-otters and snake whisperers. He is a 'full participant' in his family's home territory on Virginia's New River, and we can ask for no better reminder that 'every moment is a now' in our own home landscapes."
- Stephen Trimble, co-author of The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places