A Wonderful World

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world! – Louis Armstrong, 1967

One of the joys of being a part of the Discovery Voyager team is seeing children engage with the world around them with a sense of wonderment. When we slow down and stay with an experience, nature offers up surprises. At one school we thought we were just looking down the microscope at the parts of a flower, incredible and amazing of themselves. Surprise! Cries of “Wow! Come and look at this!” A teensy bug, invisible to the naked eye, was staring up at us through the lens. It’s hard to take your eye away from the microscopic world. And apparently, the bug thought we were just as interesting!

I don’t have a science background so in my first year on the team I get to experience things for the first time too! I love joining the children in making scientific discoveries. On a visit to Dorrigo Public School last year, I worked with Dr Jean as she presented Voyager’s School of Ants. My job was crowd control, time management and microscope supervision duty. It was Grandparents Day. What a privilege it was to witness the sense of awe when confronting a 45x magnified green ant IN YOUR FACE, an experience shared across three generations, from 5 to 85 year olds.

Slowing down, noticing, contemplating and examining the world around us is calming and enriching. When we examine a specimen using all of the senses available to us, we not only learn but we take away a physical memory of that experience. Asking questions and finding out stuff is the work of a scientist. Observing and noticing takes patience and time. At one school, during our Purpose of Pollinators activity, some children were busy observing pollinators in their natural environment while others were examining flowers and insects through the microscope. One boy, self-directed, became absorbed in meticulously and delicately dissecting a rose, pausing to examine what he had revealed after peeling away layer after layer of petals from the inside out. You can find out a lot from Google, but an experience is uniquely yours.

One of the most rewarding aspects of being on the Voyager team is when children share their stories, passions or aspirations. Even more rewarding is when they discover new passions when they are with us. One teenage girl was so overwhelmed when she looked down the microscope at a variety of insects that she chose her future career there and then. When she first approached us with her friends at our stand at AgQuip, she apologised for her lack of interest. One look down the microscope led to many more, and a conversation with Dr Steve clinched the deal. She was on her way to becoming an entomologist.

This past year, Dr Siobhan developed an activity, Science Meets Art, where children (and teachers!) explore the world of scientific illustration and collections. In this activity a sense of calm takes over the room as the children take up a pencil, paper and light box and begin to trace the outline of their chosen illustration or draw an insect or flower they have just collected from their school garden. Dinosaurs, butterflies, chameleons and birds come to life again as the children immerse themselves in the activity. The act of drawing, rather than flicking through a book or screen, slows us down and allows us to absorb and notice the features of the animal or insect we are drawing.

As adults, we are encouraged to take time to smell the roses. I find it hard to walk past a rose without smelling it! I’ve always loved birds, animals and plants, however, my work with Discovery Voyager has opened my eyes to observing with more attention and intention. Goodness, I’m almost a scientist. Insects now hold a fascination for me and observing the structure of a flower has become second nature. What a wonderful world, indeed.

– By Anita Brown, UNE Voyager member, teacher, science communicator and theatre maker