You can thank Albert Einstein for those wise and truthful words. It’s no secret that curiosity is crucial to learning. One of my favorite things as a parent and a teacher is just how curious kids can be. It’s inspiring. The longer children stay curious, the more driven they are to learn and discover. As parents and educators, it’s our role to support this curiosity. If we’re smart, we’ll use what they’re naturally curious about to teach the skills we want them to learn.
Unfortunately it’s easy to diminish creativity, without even realizing it. We all say things such as, “don’t touch that!” or “you can’t get that outfit dirty!”. I know I am guilty of phrases along those lines, especially after a long day or too little sleep. We are far from perfect, but remaining conscious of our responses to a child’s curiosity is key in supporting their creative exploration and learning.
I remember during my student teaching, a professor told us “a child who has just been yelled at, will never retain the lesson you were teaching, only the fear of that moment.” I have always kept that phrase in the back of my mind. Let’s think about it for a second. Even as adults, it’s a very valuable idea to keep in mind. How constructive is a conversation where people are yelling? How effective is a boss who screams at her employees? If a child is afraid of an educator or placed in a chaotic learning environment, he will fear creativity and exploration. Novelty and discovery will not feel safe. He will likely choose to stay in his comfort zone, not pushing boundaries towards exploration and learning. Without a safe environment to experience new things and feed our curiosity, we would all have fewer opportunities to succeed, to learn, to make friends and so forth.
But a child (and adult!) whose curiosity is supported, will want to repeat that curious moment, continuing to explore, to learn and build upon it. They’ll want to share it with peers and teachers and to be praised for their discoveries. They’ll become secure in their learning and seek further exploration and knowledge. I believe that’s what Albert Einstein meant when he said the above.
What can we as parents and educators do? First take a deep breath. I know these moments of curiosity can often come at the worst times or disguised as bad behavior. My daughter once poured an entire cup of coffee on the kitchen floor. Did I want to scream? Yes. Did I? Almost. But I stopped and reminded myself that she was exploring. She’s a one year old. She was curious. She didn’t understand or care that her action was not a socially acceptable (or convenient) thing to do! My initial reaction was frustration, but I tried to view it as an opportunity. She was showing me what she was curious about.
Instead of yelling, I filled a bucket with water and brought it outside. I added some food coloring and gave her some old cups, letting her pour water into various containers, on the floor, on herself. Refilling the water as she demanded “more water, mommy”. Instead of a tantrum from a one-year-old, because she didn’t get her way/got yelled at. I got about 40 minutes of uninterrupted computer time and she got to do something she enjoyed. Win. Win.
But there is more! Through her exploration she was also internalizing pre-concepts of basic science (mass, volume, liquid) and language (lots of new vocabulary). I was busy, so I continued to work at my laptop but I occasionally peeked over and gave her some useful vocabulary while she played independently – wet, float, sink, liquid, cold, empty and full – all terms I’ve now seen her generalize in other play. How cool is that!?
To build on this curiosity, I set up water play for her regularly, in hopes of avoiding upset and additional spilled drinks. By recognizing it was a current interest, I gave her the opportunity for further exploration. I began to give her tools to expand upon her exploration, such as foam letters and shapes. Her strong curiosity for water also provided an opportunity to teach things that mattered to me such as shapes (hello math skills) and letters (more literacy) as well!
If you think about it, your child shows you the things they are curious about on a daily basis. How can you give them additional opportunities to explore the things that interest them? Once you’ve done that, try adding to the activities – setting them up for success in expanding their discoveries while building off of their natural curiosity!