Anyone who has young children, teaches them, or has spent time with one knows that “Why?” is their master question. Once it starts, there’s no stopping it. Although adults do their best to come up with answers, the interrogation becomes an endless loop. When one question is answered, the next one comes right on its heels. And yet another and then another.
Soon, the adult feels like there’s no escape. He looks for a way out… changing the subject or pointing out something new. But then the new direction triggers a renewed barrage of “Why’s.” Geesh. This can be tiresome. Nonetheless, it is incredibly important for children. New connections are being made in their brains at an astounding rate. They are trying to figure things out and understand how things work. They’re not only learning, but learning about how to learn.
Research tells us that children have a curious, scientific drive from the very beginning, even before birth. Those of us who have spent time around toddlers and preschoolers have seen them behave like little investigators. They are curious and observant, using all their senses to soak up information. When something new or unexpected happens or when they figure something out, they just light up.
But then, as those same children get older, something happens to that curiosity. We hear fewer and fewer “Why” questions. Maybe somehow, they’ve learned it’s not OK to ask so many questions anymore. Maybe their curiosity was stifled.
It isn’t as if curiosity goes out of style. The need for curious people is probably at an all-time high. There are many global concerns that need to be solved and it will take people who ask questions, search for answers, and find solutions to make our world a better place. Some of the most creative and productive minds in history were question askers and solution seekers, even if this behavior was annoying to others.
So, how can we nurture curiosity? Well, we know that curious children are inspired by curious adults. If we model our own inquisitiveness and interest in finding answers, children will do the same. It is important to convey the message that being curious is valued. We can create situations that will open the questions floodgate.
I remember taking nature hikes with my group of preschoolers and turning over a piece of decomposing tree trunk. After asking dozens of questions about the creatures crawling around underneath, they would scatter down the trail in search of more logs to roll over. And, that led to… yes, you guessed it- more questions! Some of the logs were too heavy for one child to budge, so they had to use some ingenuity and teamwork to get it done. It was pleasing to stand back and watch how curiosity was sparking their creativity.
When a child is curious and follows through with actions to make something happen, he feels powerful. At a time in life when most things are out of his control, this feels pretty good! And so, it becomes self-reinforcing.
We must make time for children to ask questions and to answer them and to provoke more questions. Curiosity is a quality that will have value throughout their lives, if we can keep it stoked and practiced.