Have you ever wondered why your toddler’s favorite word seems to be ‘why?’ Have your older children lost their curious drive or do they no longer ‘care’ why something is the way it is? You may have even been told that ‘Curiosity killed the cat,’ but let’s look at some reasons why curiosity should be encouraged and fostered in our children.
From the moment they are born children begin to learn about the world around them. As babies they shove everything in their mouth in order to explore it (‘Is mushy oatmeal something I want to repeat? Are brother’s shoes worth chewing on again?”) As they grow into toddlers, the curiosity seems to explode out of them as they touch everything they can get their hands on and ask unending questions. As parents we can become exasperated or a little frustrated, but our children’s curiosity is actually their main form of learning at these young ages, and it helps to keep them safe as they learn what not to touch or places to stay away from. They learn that the oven is hot, that not every dog is friendly, and that inhaling bathwater can make it hard to breathe. They also learn that Mom is comfort, strawberries taste amazing, and Sister can make them laugh.
An applied psychology professor in New York who studies play and exploration in early childhood said in a recent interview, “Almost all the learning that goes on in the first years of life is in the context of exploration of the environment.”
It is essential that we encourage our children to play throughout every stage of life. Studies have shown time and time again that children who engage in a healthy balance of arts, academics, and athletics perform better in college and in their careers. As we grow older we tend to stop pursuing the creative in lieu of our culture’s focus on the academic, and while both are important, it is through curious exploration that people become problem solvers and innovators. Why does the toaster always burn the toast? Let’s fix it! Why is there so much traffic on the freeway every day? Let’s find a solution! By asking questions and being curious we are driven to find solutions. It’s safe to say we are in need of creative problem solvers in today’s world, and this way of thinking is fostered while people are young.
In our attempt to keep our children safe and sound, sometimes we can stifle their curiosity and keep them from learning things on their own. We hover too closely, say ‘No,’ much too often, and could keep a small country running with what we spend on baby proofing our homes. I am not suggesting putting our children in danger, but try to look at each situation as a way for them to learn the good and bad consequences of their choices. After all, isn’t real life that way? As they grow into elementary age, Jr. High, High School, and eventual adults, life is going to teach them many a practical lesson.
Every child has a different view of the world around them, and it is important to let them know that it’s okay to explore, ask questions (over and over again), to try new things, and to become apart of solving a problem instead of keeping them from it. Take the example of a sibling or friend disagreement. Some parents are quick to intervene and separate the kids, figure out who said or did what, and discipline accordingly. What would happen if we guided the children into solving the problem amongst themselves? That is a skill they will need quickly upon entering a school environment and one that is learned with much practice. It teaches them compassion, selfless thinking, and how to compromise.
Let’s change our adult way of thinking so that we can help foster a love of the ‘whys?’ in our own children. Modeling the behavior is a wonderful way to teach kids to do the same. We all want our children to think for themselves, become independent, and to contribute to their society, and one of the ways to ensure this happens is by letting them explore their environment and learn what works and what doesn’t. Here’s to raising a curious, wonderful, and amazing generation!