“Why is the sky blue?” “Why are dogs’ noses wet?” “Why is the water wet?” This is only a small sample of the types of questions that children may ask on any given day. By nature, children are insatiably curious. This curiosity propels their development, their learning, and ultimately their passions in life. Sometimes, as children mature and gain more life experience, their curiosity starts to fade a bit. As parents, how can we keep our children’s curiosity piqued and their minds full of wonder? Some of the most inspirational minds in history have been those who remained curious their entire life⏤Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, or Leonardo DiVinci. How can we encourage this type of curious nature in our children?
Why Curiosity Matters
Although scholars debate varying definitions of curiosity, for most of us thinking about the concept in everyday life, curiosity brings up the notion of an insatiable need to know. The desire for knowledge to answer our questions is at the heart of curiosity. As researchers have pointed out, this “need to know” often comes as a result of a gap in knowledge. There is a gap between what we already know and what we want to know. This gap in knowledge, then, creates curiosity. Curiosity, too, can be seen as a way for us to avoid the discomfort of boredom or overstimulation. Both these situations are uncomfortable for our brains, and curiosity helps resolve them by providing more stimulation (in the case of boredom) or less stimulation (in the case of overstimulation) by getting more specific.
In terms of children and their learning, curiosity, not surprisingly, becomes very relevant. If a child has an intense “need to know,” their intrinsic motivation to learn is engaged. When a child’s curiosity is activated, their desire to do whatever it takes to fill their knowledge gap is present. There is no need to force or cajole their learning, the motivation is present.
The motivation for learning that curiosity offers is seen in children’s achievement as well. Research finds that children who have a greater level of curiosity score better on measures of reading and math achievement.
In general, research points to the idea that curiosity fosters high-quality learning. When individuals are curious about a topic, they tend to remember the information better. Even beyond academics, curiosity emerges as a positive factor in other aspects of life. Children who are curious tend to have stronger social skills and exhibit better emotional control.
How to Encourage Curiosity in Children
Although children tend to be innately curious, the ways in which we interact with them and respond to their interests can be helpful in maintaining and encouraging their curious nature. Here are a few ways we can foster curiosity in children:
Unstructured Play: For children, play isn’t just a fun way to pass the time, but it is also a crucial component of their learning, even in the elementary school years. By allowing them plenty of time for unstructured play, that is, play that is not overly controlled by adults or rule-driven, we allow their curiosity to take the driver’s seat. Unstructured play is all about children exploring whatever and wherever their curiosity takes them. We can, of course, monitor their safety, but allowing them to explore nature, everyday objects, and the world around them is the simplest way to foster curiosity.
Remain Open to Questions: Children have a lot of questions. The “why” questions peak around age 3⏤4 but continue on for years. Although answering (or attempting to answer) these questions can become tiresome as a parent, it’s helpful to remain open to children’s questions. This is a wonderful way to maintain their curiosity and motivate their ongoing learning. Even if you don’t know the answer to their question, work together to look up an answer or brainstorm about possible answers. Helping children know that there are no “dumb” questions and that you are there to help with answers is a key part of encouraging curiosity.
Allow (a little) Risk: It may sound odd to think about risk-taking when discussing curiosity, but the two sometimes go together. Although it is our first instinct to keep our children safe, allowing them a bit of freedom to try activities at the edge of their physical or mental limits can also be the result of curiosity (and a way to motivate it). Curious children often explore their limits⏤climbing trees, jumping over high objects, or experimenting with all sorts of materials. If we can find a balance between the need for safety while still allowing them to explore, their curiosity will be more likely to grow.
Open-ended Toys: Although the presence of electronic toys and digital devices is ubiquitous these days, simple toys still serve an important role in encouraging children’s curiosity. Open-ended toys like blocks, balls, stuffed animals, boxes, pretend objects, dolls, loose parts, and art supplies still have the ability to spark imagination and curiosity. Unlike electronic toys or devices, open-ended toys have almost endless possibilities. Instead of just pushing a button, these toys encourage children to use them in multiple ways, all while relying on their curiosity and ingenuity to develop new ways to use them.
Almost from birth, children are curious about the world around them. They want to explore, investigate, and learn about almost everything. This curiosity not only serves them well in terms of their development but their learning as well. As parents, we can foster and engage their curiosity to motivate their learning inside and outside of school.
Preview Blurb: Is “why” a constant phrase that you hear from your child? “Why do ladybugs have spots?” or “Why is the grass green?” Curiosity in children is often very evident. Keeping this curiosity piqued as children grow and experience the world is sometimes more challenging. Discover easy ways to encourage your child’s curiosity and how it fosters their learning.
The information provided on this site is NOT medical advice and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, provide medical or behavioral advice, treat, prevent, or cure any disease, condition, or behavior. You should consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding your child’s development to make a medical diagnosis, determine a treatment for a medical condition, or obtain other related advice.