“I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt
If you’re a parent, you know that babies are born with limitless curiosity. Just think about all of the things your little one has touched, grabbed, climbed on, stared at, placed in their mouths, etc. As a teacher, who has taught various grades throughout my career, I’ve noticed that for many learners, as they grow, their curiosity is dulled. And by the time they reach adulthood, they’re merely going through the motions necessary to make it through each day instead of actively trying to understand the world around them. Why is that?
In today’s academic environment, parents tend to be so focused on their kids’ skill sets in reading, writing, and math. What they often don’t realize is that skills like curiosity and creativity are what give academic knowledge its power and usefulness in the real world. The truth is, curiosity and creativity are some of the most valuable skills learners can have as they prepare to enter the global economy. As professionals, they’ll have to innovate on the go, think of better ways to solve problems, create time- and money-saving solutions, and much more.
Curiosity and creativity cultivates an active mind. While you might sometimes fear that you’ll explode if your child asks you “why?” one more time, those questions are a good thing. These questions are a sign of an active mind that’s constantly analyzing the world and trying to figure it out. Much of what I teach is inquiry based. My lessons revolve around a real world problem or curiosities that my learners and I have about the topic or concept at hand. The point is to make my learners wonder and help them think critically. A lot of adults like to tell kids things. In fact, if I ask a child a question, many times a nearby adult will answer for/to the child. Why is that?
Throughout history, it’s always the people who ask “Why?” or “How can I make this better?” or “What is the solution to this problem?” who make the biggest impacts on our world. (Think about individuals ranging from Marie Curie to Steve Jobs.) On a smaller, but no less valuable scale, those who ask questions and refuse to accept the status quo, transform companies, lead communities, live adventurous lives, and are most fulfilled personally. Of course, the opposite is true as well. Adults who aren’t curious may do well enough in the world, but they rarely influence it.
“When children are constantly asking questions and displaying curiosity about the world around them, they’re already well on their way to creating solutions”
I recently attended an educational conference where this point was made in an unexpected way. The speaker broke down the process as beliefs, modern context, and practice for modern learning. Most of us don’t tend to think of learning, as being dependent on curiosity and imagination—but it is! The next time your child or learner wants to build a rocket ship out of a box so that they can explore outer space, don’t redirect them to a more ‘educational’ activity. Don’t redirect them to a work sheet or workbook page. Let their curiosity and imagination take the lead. Let them explore their curiosity.
As teachers, we must remember that curiosity is something our students were born with. Our job is to learn how to foster and encourage their natural impulses to ask questions and learn new things. This burning curiosity is the difference between the child who memorizes facts and methods for the sake of a good report card and the child who voluntarily reads science articles and builds their own solar hot dog cooker, because they’re curious. To develop this, we need to re-define the role of teacher and learner. Teachers need to move from primarily being the information keeper and information dispenser to being an orchestrator of learning where knowledge is co-constructed with the learner. We need to become guides, mentors, sources and resources who make use of spontaneous teachable moments to scaffold student’s learning. Schools need to create a “culture of inquiry” that is shared equally by teachers and learners, for this will serve learners well throughout their life.