The Sense of Wonder in the Wildlife Garden

(Guest post by Kelly Senser)

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.”

—Rachel Carson

This quote comes from The Sense of Wonder, a book I discovered in my teenage years—and one of my favorite nature reads. In my younger days, it was Carson’s vivid details of the outdoor adventures she enjoyed with her nephew that intrigued me.  When I became a parent, it was her prescription for keeping alive a child’s inborn sense of wonder that resonated. She said a child needed “the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

Carson acknowledged that some adults would feel ill-equipped to teach children about the natural world because they lacked an understanding of it themselves.  But the scientist held this belief: It is not half so important to know as to feel.

Gardening for wildlife attracts butterflies

Silver-spotted Skipper on Cup Plant (c) Kelly Senser

I’ve found this to be true in my own experience.  When I took this photo of a silver-spotted skipper in my garden, I actually didn’t know the insect’s name. I recognized it only as a butterfly visitor, one of many that captivated my daughter and caused my son to smile when it took wing. That was enough for me initially: being a novice wildlife watcher, sharing my kids’ delights.

Habitat Gardening for amphibians

Broad-headed Skink (c) Thuy Senser

Having a camera at the ready has proved to be a valuable tool though. What many of my images lack in artistry they make up for in education, for they allow me to study identifying marks and become better acquainted with animal visitors to my yard. When my daughter spots a bird outside her window, or my son and I venture out in search of insects (what he calls “bug club meetings”), I’m now more apt to recognize the creatures I’m seeing.

Gardening for Wildlife includes beneficial Insects

Mantis on Lemon Queen Sunflower (c) Kelly Senser

Admittedly, I’ve still much to discover. But the thirst is there—for my family too.  Indeed, that’s what I love most about our backyard habitat: It invites us to tune in.  It’s a place to nourish our children’s sense of wonder, as well as our own. We planted our garden with wildlife in mind and are daily rewarded with scenes such as bluebirds nesting, monarchs emerging from their chrysalides and mantises stalking their prey.

Gardening for wildlife helps Monarch Butterflies

Newly emerged Monarch on chrysalis (c) Kelly Senser

Though our responses to these scenes are often emotional in form, ranging from joy to sadness, these feelings encourage us to seek knowledge.  It’s the journey Carson wrote about—and one with lasting meaning.

Kelly Senser, a senior associate editor at National Wildlife magazine, is passionate about gardening and outdoor play. (Read her recent post “16 Tips for Wildlife Gardening with Kids.”) Her yard is a certified wildlife habitat. Follow her at Twitter: @klsnature.

© 2010, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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  1. says

    Wonderful post on nature and kids, Kelly! Teaching kids about nature is so important to our world, even more so in today’s technology filled environment. Roly polys, caterpillars, butterflies, lady bugs, and squirmy worms are all great educational “toys” waiting to be checked out by our children.

    .-= Kathy Green´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday – Waiting =-.

  2. says

    Wonderful post Kelly. It is so telling how our kids can make a kid out of us, if only we listen. Keep listening to your children, Kelly; the three of you will continue to discover nature together. Best yet, it’s as close as your own backyards. Let’s let our backyard’s be the gateway to the world at large. H.

  3. says

    Thanks for your kind words, Kathy and Helen. And thanks for inviting me to share my thoughts, Carole. Do love that there’s so much to discover in our habitat. Working on field guide to the backyard with my family. Though the theme is nearby nature, I know it will long serve as a warm reminder of the many outdoor adventures we’ve shared. Cheers to laughter, making memories and nurturing a sense of wonder! –Kelly

  4. Vicki says

    Kelly, a lovely reminder to slow down and see the world anew through the eyes of a child. Cheers to wonderful memories! ~Vicki

  5. says

    Lovely post… wonderful photos and it is so dear how you share the wildlife in your garden… made with them in mind… with your children. Our future depends on people just like you teaching children to appreciate and honor our natural world. Your post makes me miss those happy days with my son! Thanks for the memories. ;>)

  6. says

    Comments leave me smiling. Thanks, nature friends! You may miss those happy days with your son, Carol, but how wonderful you’ve the memories to brighten today. :0)

  7. says

    What a beautiful post. And maybe they aren’t “artsy”, but I think your photographs are splendid. LAst year we had a big yellow garden spider in our yard, the kids were very interested (although tentative). Well when it showed up I had not idea what kind of spider it was… it was such a fun discovery to learn about it and understand why it like our garden so much! Thank you!
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..Parenting with Style =-.


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