A Case For Wonder by Christopher Norment published in the Orion Magazine.
This gorgeous article, sent by a dear friend who understands awe in nature, conveys the critical importance of the missing foundation beneath academic knowing: wonder.
Young children live in a place of openness and marveling. We as parents and teachers sometimes have the honor of joining them there. But can we find a way to stay for life? Can they? Can we make it our spiritual home, even as we grow older? Can we help children guard their precious ability to wonder before the forces in modern society steal it from them? This brilliant essay speaks to wonder as the true basis of all learning, of intellectual curiosity, of deep knowing. And it speaks to the importance of an underlying sense of gratitude for the natural world as a precursor to true environmental awareness.
No doubt pandemic holidays pose unique challenges. But with a little creativity and planning, your family can create a memorable feast for Thanksgiving 2020. Long awaited holiday rituals may require a little ingenuity, but they absolutely can happen.
How to begin? Think about how you have celebrated Thanksgiving in the past. What do your children remember? What do they anticipate for 2020? Children may long for intangible sensory experiences - like a bustling kitchen, a blazing fireplace, or the sweet scent of warm pumpkin pie. Or they may remember company arriving, cooking together, or setting a fancy dining room table for extended family. Personalize your list and tease out which aspects of the holiday you want to preserve.
Questions to facilitate your discussion:
- What do you love most about Thanksgiving (scents, tastes, sounds, rituals)? Why?
- How can our family find a new way to re-create these things?
- What materials, ingredients, or equipment will we need?
Begin to re-imagine these newly identified moments and try these suggestions:
1) Set a date in advance of Thanksgiving to brainstorm your menu virtually with would-be guests. Involve children to incorporate their ideas. Which dishes are "musts"? Is there a new recipe that you want to try? How about drinks? (In our house, we like to start with mugs of steaming cinnamon cider.) Assign dishes. Then, create a menu on Google Docs where everyone in your extended family can post recipes. If your Thanksgiving crew is local, make large quantities of selected dishes and choose a central location for a socially-distanced course exchange. If you are geographically spread out, make smaller quantities of the entire menu for your own family. Either way, everyone participating will enjoy the same Thanksgiving menu.
2) Plan a few cooking Zoom sessions during Thanksgiving week with kid-friendly recipes like Katy’s Cranberry Sauce. Children especially enjoy cooking with cousins. This might be the perfect opportunity to pass on beloved family recipes between generations with actual demonstrations.
3) Think intentionally about creating a "shared" holiday environment in each participating home through selected scents, tastes, sights, and sounds. Consider your initial conversation with your child. How can you recreate what's most important? Focus on adding details that everyone can enjoy, like scented candles and flowers. Make a playlist. Eating the same lovingly-prepared family recipes in tandem can create a powerful, joint experience, even if you aren't physically in the same place.
4) Plan a way to start (and end) your meal together on Zoom. Choose someone to lead a song, prayer, poem, story, or a gratitude practice to focus your participants. For a change, try reading a Thanksgiving children’s book to set a playful tone for your holiday meal. Some families even prepare a Thanksgiving Seder. Here are a few recommended resources:
Thanks for Thanksgiving by Julie Markes
History Smashers – Mayflower by Kate Messner (for a fascinating re-examination of Thanksgiving myths)
"Simple Gifts" - a Shaker Hymm
"Over the River and Through the Woods" - a 19th Century American Thanksgiving Song
"Thank You, G-d" - Debbie Friedman
Light a candle and open your meal by having everyone take a turn sharing what they feel grateful for this year. Encourage visuals - they will be particularly helpful to young children. Provide paper and crayons for children to draw their answers, or just to doodle. Taking the time for a simple gratitude practice can shift the overall mindset to blessings, rather than what is missing this year.
This Thanksgiving seder was compiled by Rabbi Phyllis Sommer of Am Shalom in Glencoe, IL. It contains the Shehecheyanu prayer and well-loved songs about America. Try it as written, or add your own readings. https://reformjudaism.org/seder-thanksgiving
For the meal itself, decide in advance whether to eat together virtually or whether to turn off your screens. While the collective virtual experience on Zoom can help to recreate the large family meal you may be craving, a meal in a small grouping may offer a more intimate experience. I recommend making sure to reconvene with all participating families after the meal to share reactions.
5) Document Thanksgiving Week on your joint Google Doc. Add photos of cooking together, as well as your holiday meal. Include recipes, readings, songs lyrics, and your family’s gratitude comments. Jot down notes and add quotes. Save and scan children's drawings. Document the novelty of Thanksgiving this year, so that you will have a meaningful keepsake of this unprecedented holiday.
Fall is a time to marvel. For one glorious season, deep colors burst into the world, announcing their beauty to anyone who is paying attention. This dramatic change attracts young children's alert gaze. Join in their sense of wonder by looking with them. Slow down, look up, and start collecting leaves!
These temporary gifts of nature are everywhere at this time of year. Sometimes, a fallen leaf can be so robust in color and perfect in shape that I feel like I am stealing it from a neighbor's lawn. I almost feel compelled to make sure that no one else wants it before picking it up to bring to my classroom. When you start looking, as if through a child's eyes, neighborhood leaves reveal themselves to anyone who wants to see.
There are many creative ways to walk among the changing leaves with young children. Early autumn strolls offer simple joys with many new sights and sounds to notice. As the season progresses, try bringing new intentions into your walks. Vary your focus. Each activity offers a new way to connect with your young child through nature:
1) Photos Over Time Pick a tree that your child loves and return to the same spot at the same time each day. Note the changes. Ask your child to take a daily photo. Line up the printed pictures in a chronological series as you go to see the changes over time.
2) Japanese Leaf Design Bring a container and collect a full variety of leaves (about ten of each). Look for different colors, shapes, and sizes. When you are beneath a tree collecting its fallen leaves, look up at the ones still attached. Name it if your child is interested. Bring your leaves home, sort them, and try your hand at Japanese leaf design. These exquisite arrangements have recently become popular in Japan. Build your own design as you might a jigsaw puzzle, trying to fit one leaf at a time in a chosen pattern. Try monochrome and mixed color designs, like the ones below.
If you are working outside, the wind will introduce a time element: Can you finish before the wind blows it away? These designs are as ephemeral as fall itself! They reign for the moment, like a tower made of blocks, but are meant to be taken apart and reassembled in new ways. Keep your leaves stacked by type so you can easily start again. Most leaves last indoors for a few days. (Of course you can always collect more!) Take photos!
3) Leaf Man Let Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert inspire your walk. The illustrations are constructed with real leaves, and there is even a leaf glossary included. Read Leaf Man together outside. Can you find a tree of each variety on your walk? Try re-creating the animals in the book with leaves that you collect. Make up new leaf animals to extend the story. Can you make a leaf man? What else will you need to complete him (or her)?
Be That Someone.
For that special