Based on content from ZERO TO THREE®: National Center for Infants, Toddler and Families.
Babies are born learners, with a natural curiosity to figure out how the world works. Curiosity is the desire to learn. It is an eagerness to explore, discover and figure things out. The more curious a child is, the more he learns. Nurturing your child's curiosity is one of the most important ways you can help her become a lifelong learner.
Parents and caregivers don't have to "make" their children curious or "push" their children to learn. In fact, research shows that it is a child's internal desire to learn (their curiosity), not external pressure, that motivates him to seek out new experiences and leads to greater success in school over the long term.
Curiosity is something all babies are born with. They come into the world with a drive to understand how the world works:
- A newborn follows sounds, faces and interesting objects with her eyes.
- An 8-month-old shakes a rattle and then puts it into his mouth to see what this object can do.
- A toddler takes a stool to reach the countertop where the phone is—a "toy" she loves to play with.
- A 2-year-old pretends she is the garbage collector and puts all her stuffed animals into the laundry basket "garbage truck" to figure out what it feels like to be in the other person's shoes.
Below you will find a series of tips for ways you can nurture your child's curiosity.
Model interest in the world around you. Take a walk outside and wonder aloud about the trees, the sky, the stars. Also let your child see you pursuing interests of your own.
Follow your child's lead. Encourage natural interests. Children learn so much more through activities that capture their attention and imaginations. If he likes music, play it for him often, make and play instruments together, dance together. If bugs are her thing, give her a shovel and a net. Find books on bugs and read to her.
Answer questions simply and clearly and according to your child's development. You will answer a question about where babies come from much differently if your child is three or thirteen. And, no matter the child's age, always ask them first what their thoughts are before answering. A five-year old asked her mother, "Where did I come from?" Mother proceeded to talk in depth (anxiously stumbling on every other word) about the reproductive process. Her child looked at her quizzically throughout, and at the end responded, "I mean, did you come from New York like Daddy or somewhere else?"
And, if you don't have the answer, say so. Let them know it's okay not to have all the answers. This also provides an opportunity to model how to find answers. Go with her to the library or call someone else who might know.
Use the library! Take this field trip together often. Find out when your local branch has its storytime. Books are windows into all kinds of worlds to delight the curious mind. Young children who are exposed to books become better readers. Let your child choose his own books. Studies show that it doesn't matter whether children are reading books about rockets or comic books, the key is that their interest is captured and that they like to read.
Stimulate your child with open-ended questions. These are questions that don't have a right or wrong response, and can't be answered with only one word like "yes" or "no". "How do you feel about.....", "What was (such and such experience) like for you....", "Tell me about what happened in school today." These kinds of questions encourage your child to develop his thoughts and ideas, shows love and interest, and will give you a window into his inner life.
Create an interesting environment. Babies spend one-fifth of their waking hours in focused gazing. They're curious about what's in their surroundings. Pictures on the wall and normal family activity are naturally fascinating. Give baby safe toys and objects to explore. Rotate your supply to keep it "fresh."
Redirect, don't discourage. Try to figure out what is capturing her interest, or what skill she is trying to master and create a safe and acceptable way for her to explore. For example, if your toddler is exploring the houseplants, put them out of reach but offer a close alternative. Put some dirt in a plastic container for your child to play with and inspect. If she likes to pour the water from her cup onto the high chair or floor, move her to the kitchen floor, bathtub or backyard after the meal so she can explore and experiment with water without driving you crazy. This will also teach children problem-solving skills, creative and acceptable ways to do and get what they want.
Allow time for open-ended activities. Unlike some toys that are designed to be used a certain way, materials like boxes, blocks, water, sand, pots and pans, and any art material, can be used imaginatively. Do not tell your child what to do with the material, how to do it or what it should look like in the end. Let your child's curiosity be her guide.