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Curiosity, the Fuel of Intellect

by Pam Schiller, Ph.D. | March 17, 2011 | Child Development

By Dr. Pam Schiller

Curiosity is defined as “an eager desire to know or learn.” Curious children want to know “why.” They see possibilities. They explore. They are adventurous. Scientists claim that curiosity is the fuel of intellect.

Children are born curious. It is the driving force that compels the baby to reach for a rattle. However, if curiosity isn’t nurtured it will simply ebb away. Often by age seven, children show a notable decrease in curiosity.

Here are a few suggestions for nurturing curiosity.

  • Set up an environment that allows children to “fall in love” with their world by showing them interesting photos of plants, animals, seeds, rocks, leaves.
  • Keep the environment safe for exploration. Remove precious items, poisonous plants, things children shouldn’t touch.
  • Talk with children each day when they come home from school. Ask:
    • What did you learn today? What activity (or lesson) peaked your interest? What intrigued you?
    • With whom did you play? Eat lunch with? Sit by?
    • Did anything make you laugh?
  • Be “fully present.” Children know when we are genuinely listening. Stop whatever you are doing and give your child your full attention. Listen sincerely and respond sincerely and allow a response to your response. It takes only a couple of minutes, but many times we are too preoccupied to give this simple gift of time.
  • Accept the nontraditional. It is OK if children want to wear mismatched clothing items or boots with their shorts or a hat — allow it whenever possible. Allow children to play games by their own rules and color things with crazy colors.
  • Consider ways to offer novelty. Have pizza for breakfast. Eat outdoors or have a picnic on the den floor. Start the day backwards. Sleep outdoors. Rearrange the furniture often. Discuss differences. Change the setting of or add characters to the bedtime story you are reading. Change the three bears’ cottage to a downtown high rise. Add a dragon to the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
  • Provide interesting, noncommercial materials for exploration. Motor parts. Pulleys. Old (nonelectrical) clocks, radios, watches …
  • Ask “what if” and other open-ended questions. What if the wolf in the “Three Little Pigs” story wasn’t hungry? How would the story be different? What if the troll in “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” said, “Come on across my bridge?” How would that change the story? What if the only colors we saw were red and blue? What color would milk be? What color would trees be? What if we walked on our hands instead of our feet? Would the world look different?
  • Avoid perfectionism. It inhibits exploration and investigation and, therefore, curiosity.
  • Use literature to encourage and stimulate curiosity.
    • Curious George by H. A. Rey
    • How Come? by Kathy Wollard
    • Why? by Catherine Ripley
    • In the Forest by Pierre de Hugo
    • Edward the Emu by Sheena Knowles
    • The Rainbow Mystery by Jennifer Dussling
    • The Nose Knows by Ellen Weis
    • What’s that Sound? by Mary Lawrence