Monday, August 8, 2011

Train Up a Child

Forty-two second graders sat attentively for almost an hour last spring listening to my PowerPoint presentation on four stage metamorphosis and migration. To illustrate, I used my personal photo images and recounted my experiences with one of the most remarkable animals on the planet--the monarch butterfly. During the question and answer session, the seven-year-olds demonstrated repeatedly that curiosity and wonder for the natural world is innate and intense at an early age. Their questions were surprisingly insightful. It was a privilege to nourish their excitement over one of nature’s great wonders.

One of the last slides pictured two tiny monarch eggs I had found beneath a single milkweed leaf. With tender care, last summer these eggs hatched to become caterpillars, formed chrysalises, and became adult monarchs in the course of only one month. Several weeks ago a special guest, our seven-year-old granddaughter, demonstrated her skills locating these barely visible monarch eggs. After a roadside foray to a nearby milkweed patch, she presented me with several minute monarch eggs. After more than a thousand-fold weight gain, they have now progressed to the beautiful chrysalis stage. Upon hatching into adults, this generation will soon depart for a solitary Mexico forest site.

As the school visit drew to a close last spring, I tried to help the second graders stretch their imagination. Inside each tiny, smaller-than-a-pinhead egg is stored all the information necessary for building, step by step, a caterpillar, a chrysalis, and finally an adult butterfly. Each stage is a magnificent display of beauty and function. If the students could imagine a tiny envelope containing all the instructions necessary for building a city skyscraper, they might be able to understand in a small way how the egg contains detailed microscopic information enabling the monarch to build many thousands of proteins into very special structures and designs: the caterpillar’s organs of digestion, the shape of the chrysalis, and the beauty of the adult, not to mention how it is capable of finding its way to Mexico.

The opportunities for teaching children the works of the Creator in a home, school, or church setting by observing natural phenomena are limitless. Both living and non-living things supply such opportunities. The exultations of biblical authors with respect to living things (Job 39 and Psalm 139) and the expressions of worship and devotion for the maker and sustainer of the cosmos (Job 38 and Psalm 19) were penned long before modern scientific discoveries in the world of living things or the workings of the cosmos. In our day there are far greater opportunities to observe the micro- and macro-cosmos and to tap into the scientific knowledge gain than ever before in the history of man.

Our children are both beneficiaries and victims of these modern gains in scientific knowledge. In terms of improvements in medicine, diet, and ease of communication, to list only a few, they are beneficiaries. However, they are victims of technological overkill, their discovery process connected to point and click phenomena. Their sense of wonder and discovery may emanate from the virtual world instead of the natural world. In our increasingly secular society the connection between the natural and the supernatural, and between created things and the Creator is becoming weaker.

With respect to fostering understanding and appreciation of the natural world and how the supernatural and natural realms are not closed off to each other, consider the well known passage in Proverbs 22:6 (NAS): “Train up a child in the way he should go. Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” This verse surely relates to fostering proper patterns of thought in our children as well as the more familiar interpretations. Those thought patterns lead us to recognize the Creator in the works of His Creation.