How Do You Teach Wonder?
Updated: Mar 5, 2021
I keep seeing the question come up about teaching wonder, so there seems to be a new emphasis on teaching this—especially to young children.
But what do you think that “wonder” actually is?
I haven’t seen very many good explanations of what wonder actually is in the recent materials that I’ve read, which is really odd. Why would you want to emphasize the importance of wonder in education if you don’t know what it is?
That’s a problem…
First, I’ll explain how we experience wonder, and then I’ll show you what wonder is, and then I’ll explain about the relationship between teaching and wonder.
Where is Wonder?
It's in the New Testament of the Bible in several different places.
In John 4:48, Jesus uses that word to criticize the royal official who asks Jesus to heal his son, who is at the point of death:
Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe"
In Acts 2:22 Peter is preaching to the people in the streets after the Holy Spirit descended upon him and the other Apostles in the Upper Room, and uses "wonder" in a direct reference to Jesus and God the Father:
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst
In Hebrews 2:4 wonder comes directly from God as evidence of His presence in the world:
God added his testimony by signs, wonders, various acts of power, and distribution of the gifts of the holy Spirit according to his will
In each of these instances where we see "wonder" in the Bible, it's always referring to God as a direct action from Him that takes place in the world.
But if it's a direct action from God, then how can it be something that human beings teach?
What IS Wonder?
Did you ever hear or read something, or even just think about something you’ve heard or read before, and your reaction was, “Ohhh!!!”
You reacted that way because you had a sudden and new insight into something that you’d thought about before, or you made a connection between ideas that you hadn’t made before.
But in either situation, you’re not really even sure where it came from—it just came to you.
That moment is what both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas called, “wonder.”
That response you had was your experience of wonder, but that doesn’t explain what wonder actually is. In that moment, when you received that insight and had a new or deeper understanding, or saw a new connection that you hadn't made, that didn't come from you as a logical deduction or an observation of something new.
So how did you know it?
The short answer is that it was God enlightening you
But if that was the action of God, then how can you teach it? And why would there be an emphasis on teaching wonder if it’s a gift from God?
It seems like an odd thing to even try to teach when I put it that way.
Even though you can’t teach wonder directly to anyone, there is a relationship between teaching and wonder.
What you can do is to prepare yourself and your students so that they can receive that gift of wonder from God.
That idea of preparing students to receive “wonder” used to be part of the role in educating students in the classical tradition.
"Classical education" is used a lot by people today to describe various methods and schools. I'm not sure what all of these schools and methods mean by the term, but I'm using it in a specific context:
A classical education had a specific goal: the formation of the person.
That formation is meant to orient students towards the true, the good, and the beautiful because they are all attributes of God.
So every encounter with the true, good, and beautiful is in some way an encounter with God. Keeping this as your focus helps your students to keep your students oriented towards God, and prepares them to be open to Him and what He reveals to them.
Of course this doesn't cause grace, much less demand it, but what it does do is prepare the ground for receiving His grace by allowing us to choose a life of virtue and holiness and to avoid sin.
All of this helps us to be open
to receiving the experience of
An important part of this is to learn how to think by developing critical thinking skills.
Critical thinking is the pursuit of the truth
God is truth itself, so wherever truth is found, God is present. That is an important part of the foundation our minds need, and which allows us to experience wonder.
If you're looking for an alternative way to teach students how to pursue the truth through critical thinking, I've created a series of printables to develop critical thinking skills, and show how stories work, at the same time.
It teaches sequencing, helps develop the memory, and uses a multi-sensory approach to train the mind and develop critical thinking skills. I've included ways to adapt the exercises based on the readiness of the individual. It can be used in classrooms or for homeschooling, and can be used from ages 4 to adult.
It’s part of a new series of printables that I’ve created, Teach Critical Thinking with Stories, and it can be used with any story, and for any age—even children who can’t yet write.
It’s a systematic process which is focused more on development and thinking through ideas, while learning how to express them, than it is on requiring certain ages or grades.
The exercises are created to be adjustable so that it can be used in a classroom setting or for an individual. If it’s used in a classroom, all of the students can do the same exercise but can work at different levels of complexity by using the additional levels that are included.
Adults or children can use them, because the focus is on development--starting with developing memory and observation skills, while learning to understand how stories work.
They begin with simple observation, and then guide the student through different ways of thinking about the story to discover the deeper meanings in stories.
It truly can be used with any kind of story, but to get you started, I include a list of recommended stories and authors.
Click here to buy the printables with the exercises.
The printables include:
The reasons for the exercises
Ways to adapt them to challenge students at every level
The very first exercises in Level 1: Memory, Sequencing, and Logic, can be used for children as young as 4, but they can also be used for adults.
Level 2: Transformation in Stories can be used for students as young as 9 so long as they are able to read and write. This helps students develop abstract thinking skills.
Level 3: Symbols and Allusions is for students who are already show some ability for abstract thought, so it is recommended for students ages 12 and up.
Click here to buy the Teach Critical Thinking with Stories printables