Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it probably fired that little feline up first! And in there lies an important parenting dichotomy: curiosity may be what’s most important to inspire a love of learning in your kids, but safety boundaries matter, too. Once safety parameters are place, spark your child’s curiosity curiosity to help him want to know more about practically anything.
Successful students often show a rich depth of intellectual curiosity. Everyone is born with natural curiosity, but parents and teachers can strengthen it or squelch it in kids. Aim to build it up in your child, says author Paul Tough in his bestselling book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character (Mariner Books; 2013).
“What matters most in a child’s development is not how much information we can stuff into his brain in the first few years,” Tough says. “What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help him develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence,” he adds. But where to begin?
Four reasons curiosity is so important:
- It makes a kid’s mind active instead of passive
Curious kids ask questions and search for answers. Their minds are always active. Since the mind is like a muscle which becomes stronger through continual exercise, the mental exercise caused by curiosity makes the mind stronger and stronger.
- It makes the mind observant of new ideas
When kids are curious about something, their mind expects and anticipates new ideas related to the subject. When the ideas come, they recognize them. Without curiosity, the ideas may pass right past them.
- It opens up new worlds and possibilities
By being curious, your child will be able to see new worlds and possibilities that are normally not visible. Possibilities that are hidden behind the surface of normal life; it takes a curious mind to look beneath the surface to discover more.
- It brings excitement into life
The lives of the curious are never dull since there are always new things that attract attention and new toys to play with. Instead of being bored by life, life becomes an adventure.
To be intellectually curious and interested in exploring the unknown is something that you can help to develop in your kids. It’s what drives children’s learning, Tough says. In fact, new research shows that the more curious children are, the better they do academically in reading and math once they enter school, hence the more they like to learn.
Curiosity is characterized by the joy of discovery, and the motivation to seek answers to what is unknown. Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980), the Swiss psychologist who first studied understanding in children, recognized the importance of curiosity as a foundation for early learning, referring to children as “little scientists.” Today’s pediatric guidelines highlight the importance of promoting curiosity during early learning with your children, so there’s a lot that you can do to nurture their desire to explore and learn.
How to spark your child’s curiosity:
Practice the 5 W’s of wondering
Look for opportunities to ask questions and wonder out loud together. Practice with the who, what, when, where, why.
Point out changes
Noticing changes in the world can spark a child’s desire to “figure out” how things work. Do you see how the toast looks different than the bread? What do you see that’s different? Why is that?
Allow kids to try … and fail
Rather than stepping in with the answer, ask a question. For instance, the block tower keeps falling down. Ask your toddler, “Why do you think that happens?” “What can we do to make it taller?” As the parent, you know that putting the giant rectangle block on top of the tower means it will come crashing down, but your toddler doesn’t. Letting your child experiment in this way nurtures his curiosity and helps him cultivate his “inner scientist.”
Ask your kids what they want to know
For example, after watching a squirrel running up and down trees in your yard or at the park, ask your child, “Where do you think he is going?,” “I wonder what is he doing?,” and “What would you like to know about squirrels?” And while younger kids may not have many questions to ask, as they grow, doing this exercise is a great way to help spark their curiosity. You guide the growth by modeling your own curiosity first.
Follow your child’s lead
Every kid is different, and the things that ignite curiosity in one child are different for another, Tough says. Observe what captivates your child’s interest, then find ways to connect with them. Plant seeds together to discover where flowers come from; collect fall leaves to discover how trees change during the fall; fill glasses with different amounts of water and wonder with your child why they sound different when you tap the glass. Learn to be this way about the world around you and your child will follow suit.
Engage in activities that promote back-and-forth conversation between you and your kids. By doing this, you’ll get a front row seat to what your child is curious about. Next, deepen the exploration of their interests by exploring books, visiting museums, finding relevant events and expanding their view of the world.
You’re the most important ingredient
The best thing you can do to nurture curiosity in your kids is to model it yourself. Show your child how you explore, discover and learn. Model for your kids how to find an answer when you are unsure or don’t know something. Use a wide variety of tools including the Internet, the library, documentaries and more.
Current research says that you can create situations that prompt and guide your child’s curiosities. Harvard University cognitive scientist and researcher Elizabeth Bonawitz says curiosity is a sensation much like hunger or thirst. “It’s a physiological response that helps drive action and decision-making to support learning,” Bonawitz says. She encourages parents to literally focus on creating moments that generate a curious response:
- Highlight ambiguity. Children as young as 4 years old can recognize conflicting pieces of evidence and perceive a mismatch between a prediction and an actual occurrence. When this difference is noticed, it sparks curiosity.
- Help your kids recognize gaps in their current knowledge. Bonawitz (and other researchers) say that when children feel their understanding is insufficient, they will seek more information. Curiosity gives them the confidence to proceed.
- Get children to predict outcomes through questions that point to a specific phenomenon. With questioning, children can actively engage their prior beliefs, see a mismatch and understand according to what they learn.
The next time your kid launches a volley of questions, embrace it and encourage it. You’ll be supporting their mental development and, perhaps, even egging on the next Einstein.