Updated: Sep 12, 2022
Explorations and discoveries!
By Joanne Foster, http://www.joannefoster.ca
There are many ways young children can be encouraged to explore. As they make discoveries, expand their interests, and develop new ones, they gain experience and learn—cognitively, physically, socially, and more.
Learning is like an adventure. A child’s world is FULL of possibilities, some familiar, others unconventional, surprising, virtual, or imaginative. Prospects for exploration are endless.
In addition to helping children learn, early explorations of all kinds can support the joy of learning, and understanding of the relevance of learning —including at school, where they will continue to make discoveries over the course of many years.
For now, however, here are four different exploratory options for parents to think about, followed by strategies for supporting young children’s activities.
“Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit.”
~ Frank Borman (Commander of Apollo 8, the first mission that orbited the moon, Dec. 1968)
1.) Explorations Through Nature
“Interaction with natural surroundings can promote greater appreciation of green spaces, wildlife, parklands, forests, flowers, and conservation efforts—and can be soothing and invigorating, too.”
Sensory-rich explorations and time spent outdoors afford children opportunities to hear, feel, smell, touch, and taste—and to appreciate nature. Poet e.e. cummings wrote, “The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.” I agree! I write elsewhere that “Connectivity with the natural world also leads to greater sensitivity, caring, and awareness. Becoming immersed in natural surroundings can help children feel relaxed, express themselves, and feel validated in their emotions.” (For more on this, see The Nature of Creativity: Calling All Children.) Family nature walks and exploratory hikes to study brooks, rock formations, tracks in the snow, birds in trees, flowering meadows, and other wonders, can enhance mindfulness (being in the moment), fuel curiosity (see Curiosity in Children and Why It Matters), and help reduce stress.
2) Explorations Through Face-to-Face Encounters
“Last fall, a lady from the Humane Society came to my class and described how they look after the animals. I’ve been volunteering twice a month ever since. I want to become a veterinarian.”
~ Being Smart about Gifted Learning, p. 158
Luke is six years old, and his experience at the animal shelter reflects how real-life encounters can make a difference in a child’s learning trajectory. He helps put out clean water and food, reads his animal picture books to the dogs and cats, and organizes the toys. He’s helping, and learning, too.
Nine-year-old Jasmine recalls being in kindergarten for her first “Career Day.” Although kindergarten might seem early to introduce children to career options, it was impactful for Jasmine. “A forensic diver described his underwater diving job. It was awesome!” She and other primary schoolers started swim classes, and have been enjoying water activities ever since.
Three-year-old Colby lives in Ontario, Canada, and he loves trucks. He likes to visit the local fire station, where the firefighters let him look inside the fire engines and tell him about all the equipment. His family also goes to construction sites, and from a safe distance they watch trucks spew cement, and cranes carry materials high into the air. Last October, they went to an apple farm. Colby and his brother sat on a BIG tractor. (Standing still but nevertheless exciting!) When they came home, they shared apples with neighbors and baked muffins. This spring, they’re planning to visit a maple sugar bush!
Opportunities and explorations like these are “banked” in children’s experiential coffers, providing currency for learning, awareness, and fresh understandings. They’re meaningful because they’re authentic. They’re also springboards for the next steps involving role-playing, communication, relationship-building, and imaginative play.
3) Explorations Through Play
“Play is not frivolous; it is brain-building”
~ From The power of play: A pediatric role in enhancing development in young children.
Lead author Dr. Michael Yogman, in Pediatrics 142(3), 2018-2058.
The study cited above, written by several medical doctors, was published in 2018 by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The authors note that the definition of play may be “elusive,” but “there is a growing consensus that it is an activity that is intrinsically motivated, entails active engagement, and results in joyful discovery.” They discuss the benefits of play, including that it helps children “develop the physical and social skills needed for school and later life,” it “builds executive functioning skills and contributes to school readiness,” and it’s “fundamentally important for learning 21 st century skills such as problem-solving, collaboration, and creativity.”
When kids share, listen, observe, communicate, and explore they acquire confidence, build skills, become self-directed learners, and learn ways to behave and interact with others.
So, bring out costumes (they’re not just for Halloween), toys, instruments, interesting props for dress-up and pretend play, and stories and books to read together and re-enact. “Play serves many purposes in people’s lives, including friendship-building, tension release, cognitive stimulation, sensorimotor development, and the exploration of possibilities” (Being Smart about Gifted Learning, p. 293). Playful learning can involve games, rough-and-tumble activities, role-play, sports, and different exploratory activities—with friends, family, or independently.
4) Explorations Through Arts and Crafts
“Whether one uses words, wood, wool, wire, or wax, crafts provide outlets for new ideas and visions, and can promote a sense of accomplishment.”
~ From Crafts and Creativity
Children can participate in the arts through outlets such as painting, sculpture, theatre, music, story-writing, puppetry, dance, and drawing. Crafts can also be a wonderful way for young children to investigate how to use different materials, and simultaneously, strengthen fine motor skills, improve manual dexterity, fortify patience and focus, and enhance creative expression. Consider introducing your child to woodworking, pottery, model-building, origami, cake decorating, scrapbooking, sand or snow sculpting, or jewelry making—any of which can be stepping-stones to new interests and achievements. Crafts can be rooted in holidays, cultural conventions, special occasions, family tradition, or sheer whimsy. They can be relaxing, gratifying, and spark the imagination. Supporting children’s artistic efforts helps them flourish.
How Parents Can Support Children’s Explorations
“Experiences provide a context for learning, including helping children understand
their abilities, thoughts, feelings, limitations, preferences, challenges, and other dimensions of life.”
Explorations and discoveries are sources of intrigue, knowledge, pleasure, and fulfillment. Regardless of how children and families choose to participate in opportunities for learning and enjoyment, parents can offer support. Here are ten suggestions:
• Safety is a priority. Ensure proper supervision and guidance.
• Make it fun!
• Encourage, encourage, encourage!
• Affirm your child’s choices, fluctuating interests, and creative impulses.
• Reinforce connectivity, collaboration, and idea-sharing.
• Activities should be well-suited to your child’s developmental levels, with fair
• Challenges, setbacks, and mistakes are inevitable. Model resilience.
• Keep lots of supplies on hand for crafting and creative possibilities.
• Maintain open timelines.
• Engage in your own learning explorations so your child sees the value in doing that.
John F. Kennedy said, “Together, let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.” Children can explore the many learning opportunities available through nature, face-to-face encounters, play, and arts and crafts. Parents can offer support and safe passage and help make explorations—and discoveries—meaningful and fun for the whole family!
About the Author
Dr. Joanne Foster is a gifted education specialist and the award-winning author of several books, including the 3 rd edition of Being Smart—Being Smart about Gifted Learning: Empowering Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change (co-authored with Dona Matthews, published by Gifted Unlimited LLC., 2021. www.giftedunlimitedllc.com). For additional resources on learning, creativity, productivity, children’s well-being, and more, go to www.joannefoster.ca