I was watching a pair of one-year-old twins playing when they visited our home last weekend. The one thing that strikes me immediately is how different they are from one-year-old 20 years ago. While babies of the previous generation would lie in one place and keep busy with a toy till hunger strikes, babies today are far more active and curious about the world around them. Kids today want to know how everything works, they like to try out new things and learn from all their experiences. This is very different from the children of those days who were happy to hear stories about an experience, instead of experiencing it themselves.
The innate curiosity children have in them today makes them learn so much more easily. I watched one of the twins as he whipped out his mother iPhone, went to an app and turned on some music for himself so he could dance and entertain us all. Set a toddler free in a natural environment and they will ask you for the names of the plants around them. Show them an interesting book and you will see how their curiosity makes them remember interesting facts. Throw them into an activity where they have to discover and you will see the same trend.
A curious child learns best. Many preschools that I have studied in the Klang Valley use the child’s curiosity and creativity to teach them basics in reading, writing and counting. These are the children who do not hate studying because they are discovering a whole new world in a creative and fun way where they are allowed to explore the world around them with their curious nature.
Sadly, these children then progress to primary schools……a place where their curiosity is not allowed to enter the classroom, and dies a slow death. They are welcomed to a world of mugging and memorizing, a world of do’s and don’ts and a world of studying and not learning. As curiosity fades in children, you will find children who have fewer friends, who read less and this child will be harder to inspire, motivate and teach.
There are many ways adults constrain and crush the enthusiastic curiosity of a child:
A child who is afraid will no longer explore new things and will constantly seek a comfort zone where they are ‘safe’. Children who are impacted by war, natural disasters, family distress or violence have their curiosity crushed. Children who are constantly told to ‘sit down or they will be punished’ or ‘don’t go there or the dog will come and get you’ are the ones whose curiosity will fade over time.
"Don’t touch. Don’t climb. Don’t yell. Don’t take that apart. Don’t get dirty. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t." Your disgust for your child’s muddy shoes will not make them want to discover tadpoles the next time. Your disgust for a messy play area will not encourage your child to learn through play anymore. Instead of reprimanding them for muddy shoes and messy rooms, teach them how to clean up after themselves. This way, they can always use their curiosity and learn and won’t get into trouble.
When an adult is fully present as a child explores the world around them, learning is so much more fun. They know they are safe because you are there and they can share their discoveries with you and learn more from you. Today, many parents don’t have the time to spend with their children….to explore the world around them and to learn from nature. An hour of TV has replaced a walk in the park. A day with parents has been replaced by a day with the maid. Your absence has far more negative impacts on your child than you may think.
You can nurture your child’s curiosity even when the education system does not. It does not take much. Here are some little ways to pique a child’s curiosity:
1. Go slow
Our mornings are usually a time frenzied one where we are all in a rush to get ready and go to work and school. Instead of making them miserable, stressed and late, set aside some time for talking about the weather. When you walk or drive to school, look around and appreciate nature around or talk about an interesting topic. If you can’t do this in the morning, set aside some time during the day where you can observe and discuss the world around you.
2. Be bored
Boredom may be included in the list of deadly sins, but it is actually the best and quickest way to pique curiosity. Pick a time in the day to shut down from electronics and all external stimuli and you will find all the minds turning on with ideas and questions.
3. Go outside
Going outdoors is not just about pointing out flowers and leaves to your child. There is physics with the lighting we experience in our lovely weather here, there are bugs to catch and classify and there are hiking trips to learn from.
4. Make a game
I love this activity the most because it has worked all these years for my family. Whatever the age, your family will always enjoy this one. Have everyone in the house come up with 2 questions they don’t know the answer to. At dinner, pull out these questions and discuss them.
There are countless ways in which you can keep the bug of curiosity alive for your family. If you have a curious streak in you, chances are your children will follow suit too!