Curiosity and Lifelong Learning

by Kelley Jilek

iStock_000002075680_LargeChildren are naturally curious. They ask “Why?” and “What’s that?” several times a day, they take things apart, they wonder how things work, they are drawn to new things, and “messes” seem to find them within a matter of minutes. What a wonderful, exciting way to spend a day! Imagine having the natural desire to learn, explore, discover, and understand. Children have this drive. Curiosity can be sustained throughout life, leading to a lifelong love of learning.

Here are a few things parents and providers can do to nourish children’s curiosity:

  • Provide opportunities. We spend a lot of time redirecting children from things they should not touch or explore. However, hands-on experiences and materials are necessary modes of learning for young children. Plan situations that will allow you to give children permission to get messy, take things apart, etc. Opportunities should be age-appropriate so children are able to experience success and become encouraged. Ensure that the environment and materials are safe. Set boundaries and ground rules to minimize the number of times children will have to hear “No” or “Don’t…” Then, step back and allow children to explore and discover.
  • Answer children’s questions. It can be challenging, trying, distracting, and even a bit annoying to answer a two or three-year-old’s request to know “Why?” numerous times over the course of a day. Children gain new vocabulary and information by asking questions. It’s important to give children answers. Send the message that you want them to continue wondering, inquiring, discovering…learning. Responses can be short and simple. If children desire more information, they will undoubtedly ask!
  • Ask questions. Model inquisitiveness and an interest in learning yourself. You don’t have to pretend to know everything. Talk about how you could find the answers to your questions. What could you try? Who could you ask? In addition, ask children questions as they play. You will encourage deeper thinking, cause children to wonder, and urge them to keep trying.
  • Keep your reactions in check. You may not wish to have an earthworm wiggle in your hand or have your feet covered with mud, but try not to let on. Children can sense our fears, opinions, dislikes, and attitudes. Try not to allow your inhibitions to interfere with their natural curiosity.iStock_000009115503_Large
  • Recognize and respect individual differences. Some children will dig into any and every opportunity they are offered without hesitation. Others will watch for a while before feeling comfortable enough to participate, and a few others are content to just watch quietly from a distance, rarely joining in. Children should never be forced to participate. Instead, offer repeated opportunities and a variety of experiences with positive reinforcement to encourage exploration.
  • Share the discovery. Show children that learning is exciting and important. Encourage them to share what they have learned with their friends and adults in their lives.

Always look for ways to keep children thinking and stimulated. Rearrange furniture, rotate toys, share interesting materials, and offer unexpected foods. Curious children grow to be inquiring adults. What mysteries could they solve? What new invention could they dream up? Their potential is exciting, and the possibilities are endless!

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