“Why is the sky blue?” “Why is grass green?” These questions—and all the other questions your child asks you throughout the course of a day—are simple yet beautiful expressions of their innate curiosity and wonder about the world.
Children are naturally curious. They are born eager to discover, explore, and figure out how the world works. Young children routinely move through the day with their senses primed to gather data as they try to make meaning of the world around them.
“Unfortunately, as children grow and mature, formal expectations, extrinsic motivators, and diverse social interactions challenge this inborn desire to learn,” says Helen Hadani, Ph.D., Head of Research at the Center for Childhood Creativity at the Bay Area Discovery Museum. “Developmental scientists, educators, and policy makers all agree that maintaining and developing children’s innate curiosity and desire to learn is a critical component of school readiness.”
Curiosity is a strong motivator for learning. When kids are given the opportunity to articulate and explore their own questions, they are more engaged in the process and the lessons they learn are more memorable. The good news? There are simple ways you can cultivate your child’s natural curiosity.
1. Protect Time for Unstructured Play and Exploration
Children need unscheduled time to play, create, and just be. “Unstructured open-ended play time helps children develop autonomy and independence, while providing opportunities for curiosity, discovery, and innovation,” explains Hadani, an early childhood development expert. Create opportunities for your child to explore and play on their own. For example, you can provide your child with materials like tape, cardboard, and paint, but give them the space to explore and create something on their own.
2. Provide a Variety of Experiences for Your Child
Spark your child’s curiosity through fun, new experiences. Visit museums, zoos, libraries, parks, and beaches. While you’re there talk to your child about the things they see. Help your child articulate what they wonder, and ask them questions about what you see as well.
3. Welcome Endless Questions with Patience
Your mini-me has a lot to learn about the world. Spend time listening to and validating your child’s questions. Encourage your child to investigate the answers to their own questions when possible. Try to refrain from giving quick and easy answers. Instead, support your child by setting up an experiment to discover the answer.
4. Encourage Questions and Conversation
When your child is interested in a topic, ask them open-ended questions that allow for a variety of responses. Further, it’s important for children to learn how to articulate their ideas in conversation with others, says Hadani. Gently challenge your child’s ideas and ask them what they can do to investigate their questions. Some phrases to try are “what do you think would happen if…” or “tell me more about….” You will be amazed by what you hear when you take the time to engage with your child’s ideas and talk it through with them.
To learn more about school readiness, read Reimagining School Readiness: A Position Paper with Key Findings by the Center for Childhood Creativity. This paper surfaces skills and conditions that matter most for a child’s success in school and life.