Developing Curiosity: Teach Them How to Wonder
a guest blog by Kathleen R. Hopkins
“Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous mind”
-Samuel Johnson (1751)
There is an innate curiosity within the mind of a child. Where does it come from? How does it grow and develop? Why do some children develop strong intellectual curiosity and some do not? Can it be that parents and teachers play an important role in promoting and developing the natural wonder of a child? Simply by asking, “Tom, did you ever wonder about…?” can begin a delightful journey of the imagination leading to a love of learning.
Parents and teachers could begin by doing an informal assessment on a particular child or group of children in a classroom. The following factors are indicators that children or young adults have a curious mind:
- They ask a variety of questions such as, “Why…? Why not…? How come…? What if…?” (This is beyond the age of two where it comes naturally!)
- They closely examine things and ideas particularly noticing the details.
- They seek additional information saying “Tell me more” or “How can I find out more about this?”
- They create their own problems to solve.
- They make comparisons such as, “This reminds me of what I just learned in science class.”
- They show enthusiasm for learning by their facial and verbal expressions; the “Oh!” or “Aha!” of wonder!
Suppose you have informally done the survey for a particular young person or group and it seems the curiosity index is very low. If there is a learning difficulty or a diagnosed learning disability the wonder of discovery may diminish quickly as the student progresses through the grades. When learning is a challenge, intellectual curiosity is often the first casualty. Can we begin to restore curiosity to young people who have lost their desire to learn?
How can the wonder of playing with blocks translate into the joy of playing with ideas? Curiosity and inquisitiveness form the beginnings of meaningful learning about the world and our selves. We need to act upon our curiosities beyond kindergarten, to learn to wonder, to speculate to ask questions. That spark of innate curiosity may be just waiting to burst into flame with the right encouragement.
First, it would be important to assess our own curiosity as adults in the following parent/teacher inventory:
- Would you say you are a curious person based upon the survey above?
- Has your curiosity diminished or increased since you have become an adult?
As you reflect upon the “curiosity index” both within yourself and your children you may wonder why and how you or they came to lose the love of learning. It has already been mentioned that when learning is difficult the joy of discovery quickly fades. Yet because innate curiosity is a uniquely human gift with a divine spark it can be restored. We who are parents and educators and role models for our children must recapture it.
Secondly, let’s consider some ideas to rekindle wonder in our children. These ideas can be used at home in private moments or in a classroom.
- Ask, “Is there anything you wonder about?” If the answer is “No” model some of your own wondering (i.e., “I wonder why the sun is so much brighter than the moon.” or “I wonder where birds hide in bad storms.”).
- Share a story when your curiosity led you to discover something…or got you into trouble. This could be a great place to explore the idea of moral excellence and that all natural gifts have a dark side. There are some things we are not meant to explore.
- Ask if there is something happening in the world today that you would like to know more about. Then turn the wondering into a specific question to be answered.
- Set up a competition for the best “wonder” of the week giving meaningful prizes for increased curiosity.
- When reading stories aloud, give plenty of time to share the wonderings. This can also work with TV shows at the commercial break. Model the wonderings you have. Soon this enthusiasm for thinking and wondering will come naturally.
- Suggest ways of finding answers to the ‘curious’ questions; the Internet is a fast source of information.
- Praise statements that begin “I am curious about…” Let learners know that intellectual curiosity is a valuable resource (more important than oil or jewels) because it produces thinking citizens in an informed society. Discuss what they think that means.
If you were ever in Norfolk, Virginia (the Navy town!), you may have noticed a sign with the letters NILD on it. Were you curious as to what those letters stood for? A further look (if you had to wait for a light) would have given you the name of a non-profit national organization that has been on that street corner since 1982.
The National Institute for Learning Development (formerly the National Institute for Learning Disabilities) has had a consistent mission to build competence and confidence and, I might add, curiosity in those who struggle to learn. Through a direct and focused intervention that develops the ability to think, predict, reason, reflect, read, write, spell, and do mathematics we restore the wonder!
It would be our pleasure to satisfy your curiosity through a visit to our website at www.nild.org.
Kathleen R. Hopkins, Ed.D., is executive director of National Institute for Learning Development (NILD), an international organization dedicated to meeting the needs of students who have difficulty learning, including those with and without specific learning disabilities. She is the author of Teaching How to Learn in a What-to-Learn Culture, Grades K-8.