By PREMA JAYABALAN
Children are curious beings. They question, explore, and wonder when they learn. From the moment of birth, people are drawn to new things. When we are curious about something, we will want to explore it. And while exploring it, we discover.
Children are born with a rage to learn. They want to learn about everything and they want to learn about it right now. Children naturally think that learning is great. However, they spend the first six years of life being told that learning is not the greatest thing in life. Playing is. But isn’t playing the best form of learning?
By turning the light switch on and off, over and over again, the toddler learns about cause and effect. By pouring water into different-shaped containers, the three-year-old is learning the concepts of mass and volume. In eating, a child experiences the sweetness of chocolate, the bitterness of lemon, the heat of the radiator, and the cold of ice.
If a child continues to be curious, he will always explore and discover. The pre-schooler finds tadpoles in a tiny pool of mud on the playground. This discovery excites him. When he experiences the fun in discovery, he will want to repeat his exploration of the pond.
Each day, he and his classmates will return to explore. The tadpoles grow legs. The children learn that tadpoles become frogs – an example of a biological process. Mastery – in this case, figuring out that tadpoles become frogs – leads to confidence.
Confidence increases the desire to act on curiosity – to explore, discover, and learn. “Can we bring tadpoles into class for everyone to see? How do other animals grow? Why don’t puppies lose their tails?”
This interesting cycle of learning is fueled by curiosity and the joy that comes from discovery and mastery.
Sharing is caring
What is most pleasing about discovery and mastery is sharing it with others. (“Teacher, come here! Look, tadpoles!”)
We are social beings. The most positive reinforcement comes from admiration, comments and support from someone we love and respect.
The teacher smiles, claps, and comments, “Wow, look at all these tadpoles! You are our little science geniuses!”
This rewarding gesture causes a surge of pleasure and pride that can sustain the child through new challenges and frustrations. Approval can help build confidence and self-esteem.
So later in the day when this child is struggling with mathematics, rather than bumming his esteem by thinking, “I’m dumb, I don’t understand,” he will think, “I don’t get this, but I will because I’m the one who found out about tadpoles.”
For many children, curiosity fades away. As the saying goes, curiosity dimmed is a future denied. Our potential – body, mind and soul – is expressed through our experiences.
And the less-curious child will make fewer friends, join fewer social networks, read fewer books, and take fewer hikes. When he/she joins the workforce in the future, they may well be one of those who don’t interact well with others.
Lack of inclination to be curious and fear of asking questions, can result in lack of confidence as an adult. There are three common ways adults constrict or dampen the fascinating exploration of the curious child.
The presence of a caring, interested adult provides two things essential for maximum exploration: a sense of safety to discover new things and the ability and space to share the discovery and get acknowledged for it.
“Don’t touch this. Don’t climb that. Don’t shout at him. Don’t break it. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.” Children sense and respond to our attitudes. If we convey a message of disgust at the mud on their shoes and the slime on their hands, their love to discover tadpoles will fade away.
Fear kills curiosity. When a child is afraid, he will not like anything new. He will seek the familiar, stay in his comfort zone, not leave and explore new territories.
Children impacted by war, natural disasters, family distress, or violence all have their curiosity diminished.
Let them blossom
Be aware of individual differences in children’s styles of curiosity. Some explore only with their minds, others in physical ways – smelling, touching, tasting, and climbing.
To some extent, these differences are related to the variety of temperaments. Some children are timid; others are very comfortable with physical exploration. However, even the timid child will be curious; just that he may require more encouragement to leave safe and familiar situations.
Curiosity often leads to mess than mastery, but it’s how we handle the mess that helps encourage further exploration, and development. All we have to do is redefine failure. When the five-year-old is learning to jump rope and he trips a thousand times, it is not failing repeatedly – it is determination.
Use your attention and acknowledgment to reinforce the exploring child. When exploration in the classroom is disruptive or inappropriate, teach the child when and where to do that kind of exploration: “Lets play with water outside.”
Mark Twain once said “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” If we let them, children can reintroduce us to the world. When we truly allow a child to share his discoveries with us, we experience the joys of rediscovery – and in doing so, learn ourselves.
In the quest to produce an innovative and productive workforce in the future, it is imperative for parents to start cultivating curiosity in children at a young age.