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PARENTING : Moments Full of Inspiration : There are many opportunities to develop and share awe and wonder of the universe in a family context.

August 26, 1994|BARBARA BRONSON GRAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Barbara Bronson Gray writes regularly for The Times

Kenneth Klaristenfeld makes a habit of sitting with his 8-year-old son, Josh, as the day ends, silently watching the sunset, taking in all the color changes and the quiet of nightfall.

"It's powerful stuff," said Klaristenfeld, a rabbi and Encino-based psychologist.

Richard Brown, a director at JAF Ministries in Agoura, likes to take his 4-year-old granddaughter out in the back yard or on a slow-paced walk around the neighborhood, picking dandelions and blowing the seeds to scatter them, or watching a ladybug make a trail along a leaf.

Klaristenfeld, Brown and other parents say they are deliberately trying to expose their children to what is awe-inspiring, offering them special moments to glimpse the beauty and complexity of the world.

For some, such an effort is just a small part of a more structured religious life that includes formal instruction and regular worship. But for others, the quest to nurture a sense of wonder may have nothing to do with any particular religious belief.

"Given the world we live in and the fact that life is so terrifying, it's crucial to have some sort of a balance to help us get through," said Klaristenfeld. "Perceiving the awe-inspiring helps us put ourselves in perspective."

Some parents may wonder how a simple sunset or a butterfly can mean much to a generation of children accustomed to video games and special effects. But "silence itself is awe-inspiring to children," Klaristenfeld believes. "You don't even need to say anything. Awe can only come when life stops for a while."

Busy grown-ups might ask, Who has the time to sit quietly, doing nothing, looking up at the gnarled branches of a tree, or watching a red-tailed hawk glide in the breeze?

Brown agrees that exposing children to the universe takes some effort, and it doesn't happen automatically. "It boils down to taking the time and listening, and that's what allows you to connect to your child at that given moment," Brown said.

Developing a sense of wonder is also possible through the simple activities of daily life, Brown believes. "Having a pet--learning about unconditional love--watching a cake rise in the oven, learning what happens when water boils, standing on top of the Empire State Building or talking with grandparents about their personal history: This can all inspire wonder about the universe," he said.

Klaristenfeld sees many opportunities to share awe and wonder in a family context. He suggests that parents take children to the ocean to watch and listen to the waves, or to a forest, a desert, or a stream.

Josh Klaristenfeld likes the time he spends watching sunsets or beachcombing with his parents. "It gives me a special feeling," he said. "It gives me time to think about things that went on that week, like if someone asked me a question and I didn't know the answer, I can think about it while the sun sets."

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