Curiosity in Children & Why it Matters
Dr. Joanne Foster – www.joannefoster.ca
Curiosity may be the most valuable attribute any child could have. Here are statements attributed to two eminent and oft-quoted individuals:
“I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.” (~ Eleanor Roosevelt) “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” (~ Albert Einstein)
Eleanor Roosevelt thought so highly of curiosity that she believed it should be at the top of every parent’s wish list. Albert Einstein believed that curiosity was the fuel that powered his learning; his abilities or talents paled in comparison to his sense of wonder.
Here’s a challenge. Reread those two quotes, leaving out the last word in each. If you didn’t already know that curiosity was the focus, what would you have said? If you were to ask parents or grandparents you know to fill in the blanks, what would they say?
IS CURIOSITY OVER-RATED OR UNDER-RATED?
Embracing curiosity—asking questions, and thinking openly, creatively, broadly, and intelligently—is essential to children’s learning. However, not everyone will agree that curiosity rates the number one spot on a list of must-haves. Some parents, teachers, or others might argue that kindness, specific skill sets, respect, resilience, self-confidence, integrity, enthusiasm for learning, perseverance, or other attributes hold more sway. There are lots of alternatives, all of which are the stuff of valuable lessons and experiences.
Curiosity is a motivator, promoting involvement in learning. It emboldens little ones, getting them in action mode (off the couch, away from screens) so they can interact meaningfully with the world around them. And, quite truthfully, there are MANY different kinds of motivators in addition to curiosity. For example, there’s playful exploration, humor, controversy, guessing, and other ways to ignite the imagination and cultivate knowledge. But being curious is a great way to start!
WHY DOES CURIOSITY MATTER?
Curiosity generates inquiry. Inquiry is a prime activator for acquiring information, sparking creativity, and engaging in problem-solving. Curiosity gives rise to important questions—including the why, where, what, who, when, and how of everything around us. “Curiouser and curiouser” said young, imaginative Alice as she set about finding direction in a strange Wonderland in unusual and challenging circumstances over 150 years ago. (She ultimately prevailed.)
Curiosity leads to meaningful answers. Stretching the intellect leads to understanding and achievements. In the new book Insights into a Bright Mind, neuroscientist Nicole Tetreault writes, “The bottom line is children want to learn. Children are naturally motivated and curious.” Tetreault strongly suggests, “There is no better time than now to open up to all your wonder and possibility.”
Curiosity helps children become self-directed learners. They learn to listen, observe, and reflect. They become more discerning. They learn about patience and resilience; how not to be judgmental; and how to take a chance and welcome opportunities. “When you’re curious you find lots of interesting things to do.” (~ Walt Disney)
HOW TO PIQUE YOUR CHILD’S CURIOSITY?
Expose your little one to experiences in different domains. This includes reading, drawing, and activities in a range of areas—scientific, mathematical, linguistic, athletic, musical, technological, and so on. It’s never too soon to encourage fresh perspectives, a positive outlook, and original ideas. Enable multisensory explorations and discoveries, outside in nature, inside the kitchen, and all around the town.
Share a desire to know more about anything and everything. Why do geese fly in a V? Why does the moon change shape? What color peppers taste best—yellow, red, green, or orange? What makes the wind blow? Pay attention to your child’s interests and concerns, and seize opportunities to raise intriguing questions. Model a love of learning.
Help your child realize the promise of ability. Nurture their particular strengths and talents, and help them advance their own levels of intelligence. Whether it’s through unstructured play, practice, thinking, interacting with others, or some other means, encourage and guide their inquisitiveness and efforts so they can acquire a “Yes I can!” attitude, and find new ventures.
Curiosity is a springboard for fun, learning, and creativity. Your child’s curiosity will empower them now, and also into the future as they deal with contingencies and challenges, getting ready to face—and perhaps one day even change—the world. Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt treasured curiosity. I like to think that children do, too. I will ponder it further, as a matter of curiosity…
REFERENCES Carroll, L. (1865). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Wisehouse Classics. Tetreault, N. (2021).
Insight into a Bright Mind. Gifted Unlimited, LLC. (p. 64 and p. 298)
About the Author Dr. Joanne Foster is an award-winning author who writes about child development and gifted education. For information about her work and her books (including her most recent, ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids)—and for access to timely resources on children’s well-being, creativity, intelligence, productivity, and learning—go to www.joannefoster.ca.