Why It’s So Important to Nurture Curiosity in Kids

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They say that curiosity may have killed the cat, but turns out, it’s a great thing in kids. And since research suggests that curiosity is an accelerant, if not a root cause of learning, then it’s no surprise that educators are taking a closer look at the relationship between natural curiosity in kids and skills that predict success in life. Keep reading for five reasons why being curious is key to your kiddo’s development, and how to foster it.

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Curiosity Drives Learning

"In recent years, researchers have demonstrated that curiosity—long thought to help motivate learning—is also associated with better learning outcomes." In a 2009 Psychological Science article, researchers found that people were more likely to recall the answers to questions they were especially curious about. Put simply, a child's curiosity about a subject correlates with whether they'll retain what they learn. Most interestingly, kids remember lessons the most when they were stumped in the first place. Curiosity and learning are, therefore, less about finding answers than it is about the process of seeking understanding.

Educators who slow down and provide students time to wonder and be curious about an idea before expecting them to provide a rote answer are adept at fostering curiosity in the classroom. "Curiosity does not hold up well under intense expectation," explains Eric Shonstrom in Education Week. Seasoned teachers and researchers agree that "our role as teachers is not to provide answers. Our role is to give time and free rein to inherent curiosity and questions, and let our students exist in the heightened state of hungering for knowledge."

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Curiosity Builds Psychological Safety & Is a Healthy Response to Uncertainty

The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) reports that around the world, children's depression and anxiety rates may have doubled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Developing a curiosity skillset can help create your children's psychological safety, which is the idea that someone feels safe, or not afraid of being labeled or criticized for saying what they are thinking and feeling, as well as equip them with a healthy response to operating amid uncertainty.

Curiosity is also a healthy response for a child who is operating amid uncertainty. "When you teach your children to ask more questions—especially in ambiguous situations—you’re teaching them to build “curiosity muscles.”  Seeking more information helps children to feel more empowered, which in turn combats the anxiety of helplessness.

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Curiosity Counteracts Boredom & Grows Self-Sufficiency

The old saying "curiosity killed the cat" isn't too far off the mark, when you consider most of the trouble that kids get into starts with boredom. Naturally curious children can go "un-entertained," a.k.a. flat-out-bored, without incident. When your child is occupied with imagination—about how things work, about discovering solutions to challenges that everyday interactions in the world afford—they are more likely to be able to figure things out in other situations. Ultimately, curiosity gives children opportunities to become more confident, and that grows self-sufficiency.

According to a 2018 study published in Pediatrics, sensory play is an excellent way to spark a young child’s curiosity. As they reach out to what is around them, their discoveries are cataloged. The more experiences they gather, the better they become at differentiating between them, and their curiosity about what makes one experience different from the next will grow.

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Curiosity Breeds Persistence & Scientific Thinking

Have you ever been stumped? You're literally out of ideas, and the best option is to chuck it all and go home. If you can't think of a way out, you quit. But when you simply must know who, what, when, where and why, you rarely run out of questions, and you rarely quit.

Curious kids simply don't run out of questions. One observation leads to another, and "what ifs" become "how could." The countless questions that are so often fired from the back seat of your car are exhibits of your child's persistence. Instead of "giving up" on an idea, they keep turning it over, examining it from new angles and different perspectives. Keep answering those questions—even when it seems like you're on 1,999,999 because a persistent child is a resilient child, according to a 2018 article from Pediatric Research.

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Curiosity Makes Your Kids Nicer

Instead of being inwardly focused, curious children are aware of what's going on around them. They are unlikely to see themselves as the sun, the moon and the stars, which goes a long way to counteract self-absorption. Being curious is easy as a child because we're all hard-wired to ask questions and be open and listen and learn. (Friedman)

But what children come by more easily than curiosity is humility. Sure, they may think they're tiny emperors, but humility is not knowing. So when a curious kid starts asking questions, he's demonstrating a pretty solid grasp on humility. Given enough cultivation and time, humility leads to empathy and empathy to compassion. Turns out curiosity, not compassion, is the real engine on the Love Train of life.

—Shelley Massey

Featured image: iStock.

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