The Art of Wonderment

Aimee Bloom

Wonderment 960x450

wonderment /ˈwʌndəm(ə)nt/
noun
1. a state of awed admiration or respect.

Any educator or parent could recall times when children expressed wonderment about the world around them. However, somewhere along the way, many of us lose the ability to enter this state and, perhaps, even forget the moments during which we relished this feeling to begin with.

Wonderment Defined
Wonderment encompasses the mind, body and spirit (duPlock, 2017) and can be thought of as a subset of awe (Bonner & Friedman, 2011). Costa and Kallick (2009) list ‘wonderment and awe’ as one of their 16 ‘Habits of Mind’, explaining this as students feeling ‘compelled, enthusiastic and passionate about learning, inquiring and mastering.’ In addition, Maslow (1968, 1976) believed it was important for educators and educational psychologists to promote experiences of wonderment in order to enhance children’s creativity. 
 
With this in mind, let’s explore how encouraging a sense of wonderment can be beneficial not only to our own wellbeing but to that of our students as well.

The Importance of Wonderment
Seligman (2002) emphasises the importance of the good life and the meaningful life. Indeed, Positive Psychology is largely founded on these two concepts; and it’s interesting to note that wonderment can be linked to both.

Whether experienced while looking over the vast expanse of a bright blue ocean or felt at the height of an operatic score, a sense of wonderment can enhance hedonic wellbeing, leading us to feel increased pleasure and happiness.

Experiencing a sense of ‘awe’ has been shown to lead to a diminished sense of self, resulting in increased prosocial behaviour (Piff et. al., 2015). When we experience a sense of wonder, we become aware of the ‘small self’, embracing a heightened sense of both our own insignificance and something greater than ourselves. 

So, if we know that wonderment can improve our immediate sense of pleasure as well as cultivate a deeper sense of meaning, how can we develop our ability to enjoy this feeling?

Recapturing Wonderment
In his essay, duPlock (2017) promotes the importance of recapturing our ‘innate ability to wonder’ (p. 95), claiming that wonderment is a state we can evoke through practice.

One way of cultivating our ability to experience wonderment is through the practice of mindful awareness. By developing our ability to be intentionally aware of the present moment, we can appreciate the beauty and sensation of the moment we are currently experiencing. Engaging in some basic mindfulness practices can be one way to do this. (See our ‘Mindful Moments’ book for ideas).

Appreciating the masters – going to the ballet could spark a sense of wonderment, or you might feel inspired while viewing some incredible works of art in a gallery. 

Seeking revelation through reading, and expanding the mind through philosophy or poetry, can lead us to feel a sense of wonder. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Nietzsche or Frost, the idea is that you find something inspirational that speaks to you personally. As Aristotle says, ‘philosophy begins in wonder’.

Enjoying new experiences through travel can inspire a sense of wonder. It could be during a coastal road trip or while exploring a new culture – wandering often leads to wonderment. 

Being in nature is a common precursor to wonderment. It could be felt while you are looking up at majestic, tall trees or out at the expanse of stars. Going for a walk, a hike or a photography expedition might be just what you need to elicit this feeling.

Connecting to others by engaging in meaningful conversations can produce wonderment. Whether this means drawing on the wisdom of our elders or having a philosophical debate with a colleague, many people find inspiration through conversation.

There are many ways in which we can create opportunities for wonderment in our classrooms. Perhaps by modelling Project Zero’s ‘See, Think, Wonder’ Thinking Routine in an Art lesson, or by exploring the meaning of the word ‘wonder’ in relation to relevant stories and texts. Guiding students on a walking meditation and encouraging them to take photos of natural elements along the way is another way to inspire wonderment in students. 

Costa and Kellick (2009) suggest that it’s important, as teachers, to model our fascinations and discoveries while in the classroom, and to help develop the vocabulary with which our students could express this feeling themselves. However, it is by first personally rediscovering this concept that we can then guide our students along their own meaningful journey of wonderment.

References

Bonner, E.T. & Friedman, H.L. (2011). A Conceptual Clarification of the Experience of Awe: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. The Humanistic Psychologist, 39, 222–235

Costa, A.L. & Kellick, B. (Eds) (2009). Habits of Mind Across the Curriculum: Practical and Creative Strategies for Teachers. ASCD: Alexandria, Virginia, USA.

duPlock, S. (2017). Everyday therapy: putting the wonderment back into our daily lives. Existential Analysis, 28(1), 93.

Lazarus, R. S. (1991). Goal congruent (positive) and problematic emotions. In R. S. Lazarus
(Ed.), Emotion and adaptation. New York: Oxford University Press.

Maslow, A. (1968). Toward a Psychology of Being. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Maslow, A. (1976). The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York, NY: Penguin.

Piff, K., Dietze, P., Feinberg, M., Stancato, D.M., & Keltner, D. (2015). Awe, the Small Self, and Prosocial Behavior. Journal of personality and social psychology, 108(6), 883-899.

Shiota, M. N., Keltner, D. & Mossman, A. (2007). The nature of awe: Elicitors, appraisals, and effects on self-concept. Cognition and Emotion, 21, 944-963.

White, D. B. (2017). Being and beholding: Comparative analysis of joy and awe in four cultures. Dissertations. 150.

Aimee Bloom

Aimee Bloom


Aimee Bloom is a curriculum writer at the Institute of Positive Education. She is responsible for helping to craft the school’s explicit Positive Education curriculum from ELC – 12. An experienced teacher and writer since 2005, Aimee has taught in both primary and secondary contexts, and has written content for a variety of government and non-government agencies. She is passionate about supporting teachers and ensuring the wellbeing of children, both in our schools and around the globe.