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A child’s art of discovery (04/04/2004)
By Janet Lewis Burns

The first time we heard her rattle off the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag in Spanish, Pat and I looked at each other in astonishment. Our first grandchild, Alyssa, eight, never ceases to amaze us with her imagination and understanding of things. Children's opportunities for learning and competing are more prevalent today, and at a younger age.

Is observance of the natural becoming ignored? Is active exploration slighted by the allure of flashing screens and reams of hands-on information? A child's wonder is genuine, spoon-fed, savory encounters gathered-up for a life's journey. Sadly, adults can squelch this healthy curiosity by their negative indifference and frenzied lifestyles.

I've always maintained that I would never be a "shopping granny." (I may have strayed from my conviction a bit.) During their visits to our campsite in Chetek, Alyssa, Alexandra, Sam, and I go on "treasure hunts" in the forests all around. One summer, "pet stones" were a big attraction. The fields of wildflowers at our resort yields multicolored bouquets for months. Our bird feeders are fully decorated by orioles, juncos, finch, chickadee and nuthatch...more enthralling through a child's eyes.

During one recent afternoon at Grandma's and Papa's, Alyssa was on a mission. I discovered her rearranging the overabundance of my nature and family photos, miniature collectibles, and special books of the moment. She had fingered through the bowl of potpourri, left from the holidays, stirring up the spicy scent of the petrified fruit slices, curlicue bits of bark, baby pine cones, cinnamon sticks, dried weed heads, and delicate green leaves. Delighting in the intricacy of each piece, she filled tiny baskets with her own arrangements. She had sprinkled fine pieces of potpourri around her displays.

My pint-sized Radio Flyer wagons, wheelbarrow, sled, and tricycle are bit hits. The kids wheel around my favorite Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, and a variety of stuffed things that my own three (their parents) had once played with. Despite an abundance of state-of-the-art playthings, Barbies, and videos spread across their spaces at home, the kids love Grandma and Grandpa's toy room, with its lopsided, outdated and ragged things, worn books and puzzles, discarded jewelry, and a plastic kitchen.

That afternoon I brought out the wicker bowl of seashells, which I had once picked up at a dollar store (worth so much more). My grandchildren and I have, during special times, examined in awe each perfect and unique shell. They still yield a salty quality at the touch of a curious tongue. As she told me about a music assignment for school, Alyssa explained that each student was to bring to class some type of instrument from home.

She had discovered that, by clacking together two elongated, spiral shells, a "neat" clatter lifted. Then she blew through a channeled whelk and made a swishing sound. She asked hesitantly if she could take these to school. Later she remarked that her teacher told her that her "instruments" were an ingenious idea.

What purpose would be served if I had tucked the shells away, hoarding them? That afternoon she asked if she could keep a perfect moon shell, furrowed in shades of deep purple and white, encircled to its pearly peach center. I flinched - my favorite. My perceptive granddaughter replied, "I understand about having something that's special." She placed the shell back with the rest...for the next time.

From a baby's "peek-a-boo" - to a youngster's "show and tell" - to a teen's "I don't know - we just hang out," responsible adults need to take an active part in our youths' challenges to comprehend many things. Exploring the magnitude of nature's mysteries and miracles, and coaxing a spiritual awareness and awakening, as well as attentiveness to the academic and superficial, will shape a well-rounded, insightful adult.

To smell one flower is a world apart from smelling them all. Take a child by hand, flower by flower. Ponder youthful perceptions...

It's surprising what you don't know yet! 


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