“Operation Sail was the most spectacular event of the century,” I read aloud to my small son as we poured over a book with photographs of the gigantic sailing ships which paraded up the Hudson River. Gazing into the distance, I regretfully admitted, “And we missed it!”
The little seven-year old broke into my disappointment with “Don’t you remember the sunrise we saw last summer?” That, he claimed, was the most spectacular event of the year!
I hadn’t forgotten that exciting morning. His own anticipation of seeing the sun rise over the ocean awakened him at 4:30 a.m., and he was instantly urging everyone to dress quickly. With our eyes still closed, we wondered if this could really be more important than sleeping in on our vacation. We decided it was and everyone started off to the car in various stages of dress.
Driving to the summit of a mountain, we watched the rapid change of colors in the clouds. Deep oranges and reds melted into yellows and blues as the sun burst into view just as we reached the mountain top.
For high adventure, a young child doesn’t need to be taken on long trips or to elaborate occasions. When you’re a preschooler, a hike through the woods, exploring a beach, or watching a sunrise can be as exhilarating as a trip around the world. A child’s enthusiasm gently reminds us to increase our appreciation of the simple treasures all around. We are most aware of this lesson on summer vacations when hiking, beachcombing, and exploring new adventures are primary activities.
But how can we help to preserve “a sense of wonder” throughout the year when the details of every day living cry for attention? Can we, every now and then, escape the phone, car, home, appointments, etc., to enjoy a day of discovery with our children?
One starting point is to distinguish between the simple, brief outings appropriate for young children and the more ambitious activities suited to adults alone. Children’s ages and interests help determine the most suitable activities, although a brand-new activity will broaden their outlooks. Also their interests will be maintained longer if adults talk with them and not treat them like a tagalong. A dinosaur enthusiast might enjoy a natural history museum, while a railroad buff would enjoy the excitement of a railroad trip.
Many adventures can be enjoyed right around home, such as exploring the backyard after dark with a flashlight, having picnic suppers by the fire, or hiking through a new fallen snow.
Such experiences feed children’s imaginations and help them to understand their world a little better. And, of course, they provide opportunities for getting to know family members better, to discover and share ideas that may get crowded out in a busy day.
What everyone must remember about seeing the sunrise that morning is not its indescribable beauty but rather the family adventure of getting up very early, scrambling to get there on time, watching the colors together, and talking about it afterwards.
Originally published in the Christian Science Monitor