Children are born curious and as they grow their curiosity and learning grow with them. Curiosity has been characterized as the joy of discovery. Psychologist, epistemologist, and biologist Jean Piaget recognized the importance of curiosity when referring to children as little scientists!
“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” -Albert Einstein
At first, you’ll see your little one exploring their hands, touching, and tasting everything within reach. If your little one is a toddler, you’ve probably noticed their favorite word is “why”. They want to keep exploring and understanding how things work and what makes them a certain way. By now you’ve figured out that, in order for them to satisfy their curiosity, they will want to experience whatever it is that is fueling it. These nurturing experiences play a key role in the capabilities of their brain and foster early development.
What we know about curiosity and learning
In a study with kindergarten students, Nature’s pediatric researchers found that encouraging curiosity in children and cultivating their eagerness to learn have a potential effect on their academic achievement at kindergarten age, specifically in reading and math skills.
Their construct is consistent with some of the earliest descriptions of curiosity that say that it is a “passion for learning” and speak of the positive motivational drive for knowledge that underlies curiosity. Consistent findings have linked curiosity to the construct of intrinsic motivation. In light of this, there is theoretical support that says that promoting autonomy, feelings of competence, and connectedness can foster intrinsic motivation and, therefore, increase curiosity.
Dr. Bruce Perry talks about a learning cycle and how the curiosity of your child fuels their development. When children are curious about something, they want to explore it, and by exploring they discover new things, for example: learning to hold a rattle, roll over, slide, or try different foods. When your child discovers something, they will find pleasure in that and therefore repeat it again. This is how they understand, absorb, and expand their collection of experiences, making them confident and driven to learn.
Of course, early childhood is a time for high vigilance and supervised exploration. This means that, as parents, the challenge is to provide a safe and supervised setting so your child can express their curiosity in a creative and healthy way.
How can we do this? Here are 10 ways to get you started!
- Change things around. If you are used to playing in the living room, how about taking a trip to the park? Encourage your child to play with different toys, textures, and aromas. A great way to stimulate your baby’s curiosity is through the senses!
- Spend more time on the floor and outside. One of the best ways to explore with your little one is with natural stimuli!
- Observation is an important part of curiosity. You can boost your child’s curiosity by helping them see the big picture and small details. For instance: “Look at this ladybug. How many spots can you count on it?”.
- Exploring with the senses plays a big part in how we discover and see the world. Go outside and try playing “I spy” with different colors, shapes, and sizes. “I spy with my little eye, something round and yellow”. How about playing I hear with my little ear too? “I hear with my little ear two birds singing”. You can actually try this game using all your senses, there’s no limit! “I spy, I hear, I feel, I taste, I smell”.
- Play with the different seasons. What do you think of when you say summer days or winter?
- When children ask something, they often have an idea of what the answer might be. Before answering your child’s questions, invite them to share what’s on their mind with you: “That is a very good question, what do you think?”.
- Make a journal. Write down all your kid’s “why” questions and make it an activity to answer one each day! “Why does the sun go to bed later in springtime?”, “Why are they called hot dogs if they are not made from dogs?”.
- Try some role-playing using your imagination. Let your little one tell you who is going to play who. Independent play is closely connected to self-esteem, encourages children to feel they can make their own decisions, and express their own interests.
- Encouragement is a key ingredient! An ASCD publication found that children are very attuned to the feedback of adults. When the adult makes encouraging faces or comments, children are more likely to explore further.
- Curiosity can drive connections. Encourage your curious child by introducing them to the experts around them and how they are willing to share their knowledge. “Why do chameleons change color?”, “That’s a good question! Let’s ask the vet when we go visit!”.
During this time there will be some questions going on in your little one’s brain that will seem like misbehaviors. For example, “What happens if I drop this egg on the floor?”. Rather than discouraging them, try creating a safe space to explore that! “How about we make a cake and you help me add the eggs?”.
Sometimes children’s unending questions seem overwhelming and can challenge our knowledge. We have to remember that their curiosity is their drive to understand and explore the world. So, the best thing we can do to foster their lifelong learning and creativity is the answer: “That’s a good question! Let’s find out!”.
Sofia Martinez is a psychologist with a specialty in Early Childhood Development. She’s a certified yoga and meditation instructor, eager to share these techniques with kids and parents. Sofia has spent time working with kids and studying normal development as well as working with kids with special needs, understanding individuality in development. She wants to keep studying ECD and help scale Kinedu’s model to families across the globe.