“I sincerely believe that for each child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow... Once the emotions have been aroused... then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response. It is more important to pave the way for a child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.”

• Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder, p.56

“No, Grammy, Rocky is the little turtle. He is even littler than Gracie.” Granddaughter Ava, barely 3, was absolutely certain. Her big cornflower blue eyes looked earnest.

“Bart is the big one, and Spike is pretty big too. I really like Bart. Grammy, do you like Bart too?” Words tumbled. Ava could not stop recounting her evening with the Turtlesinger. Her delight had been instantly engaged at the Avalon Library concert: “Oh, Grammy...it is a turtle! A biiig turtle!” Turtle Toter Charlie did a great job of parading all four turtles right to our noses, up close and personal. To my amazement, Bart and Rocky stared unflinchingly back at me. This was not my expectation of turtle behavior, but I was there to learn, and turtle crooner Karen Buckley held my attention with “Turtlebug.”

Ava wanted to know more about turtles: “Grammy, does Bart sleep in his shell?” Three years old is a time when interest can promote intense learning. As Rachel Carson reminds us, the sense of wonder is inspirational. And, I am here to report that the enthusiasm is infectious. Ava’s interest sparked me to heretofore unasked questions: Just how does one train a turtle?

This summer Ava seemed equally taken with seashells, blowing bubbles, turtles, and flowers. Ava discovered flowers some months ago when she helped me care for our windblown gardens. I taught her to sniff the flowers rather than damage them by plucking the blossoms. On one of our walks next to the manicured gardens near the 96th Street Bridge, I saw a Mandeville trained to grow on white twine. Seeing that a healthy pink blossom the size of my palm had dropped from the plant, I retrieved it from the sidewalk for Ava. Carrying her treasure home, Ava and I put it in water, where she talked lovingly to it. “Oh, fwower, do you have enough water?“ It withered, but she neither cared nor noticed. Her delight and wonder were larger than the life of that lone blossom.

Before she returned home last week, Ava and I stopped at a local market and bought daughter Juliette a bunch of ivory gladiolas rimmed in brilliant coral. Juliette and Ava put them in water and enjoyed them till the flowers wilted. But last weekend, on a family visit, Ava surprised us by raising a worry. Sitting at the table for a snack, Ava proclaimed, “Grammy, Momma frew the fwowers in the trash! ” Ava shot her mother a look that said, “I’m gonna tell on you.” Ava was worried that her Mother had committed a flower-crime. “Grammy we loooove fwowers! They feel sad in the trash!” Clearly, I had become the flower police, and Ava wanted to know if Momma warranted disciplinary action. I had to smile. After all, Ava was echoing my sentiments. I thought of day after day when I would look at nearby gardens and proclaim, “Ava, Grammy sure loves flowers.” And, as a result of her delight, Ava is learning to ask questions about how flowers grow. Who knows? Perhaps her enthusiasm will lead her where it led me...to building one garden after another, in the ground and in window boxes, at Rittenhouse Square, on a Maryland farm, on our bay and marshland decks. What one loves, one cultivates.

Delight...wonder...This is the stuff of learning to love to learn. And this is the stuff of great mental health. Look straight ahead at the forceful swaying of our fall marsh grasses. Look down to the windborne ripples of our marshland channels. Look up at the wingspread of our soaring egrets. Would you like to learn more about how this works? I sure would.

To consider: If you had a small child with you, what might you point out to that child as you walk about town? How might the sense of wonder about our environs enrich your love of learning more about the world around us?

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