5 Easy & Unexpected Ways to Give Your Family a Sense of Wonder

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As you stare at the calendar trying to map out weeks of summertime fun with the kids, you're likely hoping you and your loved ones get to enjoy unforgettably wonderstruck moments together. Not only will those kinds of experiences become beloved memories, but they're also a benefit to the brain and spirit.

"The brain thrives on novelty, so giving loved ones that awestruck moment stimulates activity in the brain that becomes curious and creative, enabling new neuronal connections that enhances learning," explains Jeanette Raymond, PhD, a clinical psychologist and family therapist. 

Clinical psychologist Jenny C. Yip,  Psy.D., ABPP elaborates, "Having the ability to perceive our experiences from different perspectives increases cognitive flexibility, openness to other new experiences, compassion for differences, and interpersonal relatedness."

In fact, not having those moments where they see the world in a new light could come at a cost, Yip notes, explaining that a lack of wonder may result in kids ending up "stuck in their own tunnel-vision," leading to narrow-minded or picky behavior.

Thankfully, everyday activities -- down the street in your hometown or a short road-trip away -- could be all it takes for your family to experience wonder. Here, five memorable ways your family can fuel that magic.

  • Fireworks

    Aside from being stunning to look at and exciting to be around, fireworks are innately novel. Researchers at Kansas State University studied fascination with the Fourth of July tradition. Mary Cain, associate professor of psychology at K-State, concluded, "If people had daily access to them, most would begin to find them boring, but given that our access is restricted, we find we may enjoy them more." 

    Not to mention that, simply by their nature, it's almost impossible not to have a gasp-worthy reaction when you're taking in a bright, shimmery show.  Kids are also fascinated by anything that seems to defy gravity, be it balloons, bubbles or an amazing July Fourth finale.

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  • A Day at the Museum 

    Static museum exhibits can be amazing, especially when they're of something we don't see in everyday life, like a dinosaur! But it would be wise to take in a natural history or science museum exhibit that allows for interaction, as well. "Experience from all different aspects of an event is essential for healthy brain growth and learning how to think outside the box," explains Raymond. 

  • Going to the Zoo

    Much like those interactive museum exhibits, the zoo offers the chance to get up close and personal with sights that are out of the norm. Connecting with and learning about creatures from all over the world is a guaranteed way to stimulate wonder and expand horizons. Furthermore, research shows that interaction with animals can foster cognitive development, empathy and pro-social behaviors in children. Exhibits like Walkabout Australia, newly opened at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, for example, offer up-close interactions with unique species of kangaroos, wallabies and wombats while taking families through grasslands, rainforest, wetlands and desert.

  • Gardening

    While it may not seem as thrilling as a day spent in a city or at the beach, devoting special time to gardening can certainly set the stage for awe. "The activities that facilitate wonder in kids are all over," Raymond notes. "Anything that is unpredictable counts, [which includes an activity like] how long it will take to grow a squash seed in a pot or ground." 

    An at-home gardening project can also inspire trips to botanical gardens, reading books about plants, or recording plant growth through photos and videos.

    What's more, the benefits can extend far beyond summer break: Studies have shown that gardening can improve kids' science test scores!

  • Taking a Detour

    When it comes to short- or long-distance travel, especially with kids, you may want to have your route mapped, accommodations booked and activities planned well ahead of time. But you'll do well to allow a bit of breathing room for the occasional, unexpected twist or turn. Traveling with some built-in unpredictability can spur wonder, Raymond says. So, next time you're on the road to your favorite summertime destination, consider taking a detour to check out a restaurant, playground or an interesting roadside attraction. 

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