Curiosity is the single thing that drives every child to learn. And curiosity is not something they learn either.
Children are born with a deep, innate desire to understand their world. They’re born with a natural enthusiasm for discovery. And it’s up to us - their parents, caregivers and educators - to constantly nurture that curiosity and travel alongside them on their path of exploration and wonder.
Right from the moment a child enters the world, they’re curious. Just as a parent is eager to learn as much as they can about their little bundle of joy, so too is a newborn inquisitive about everything around them. And even in those very early stages, an adult’s response of warm and loving interactions and gentle reassurances can set the foundations for a lifelong love of learning.
As time goes on and baby grows into an energetic toddler, this innate curiosity becomes even more evident. Endless questions, tactile investigations into everything around them (which often translates into a trail of mess and destruction!) and plenty of sensory exploration are all clear signs of their natural inquisitiveness.
Their curiosity helps them to learn more efficiently too. It helps them make sense of their world and their place in it. And as they get older, it helps them resolve more complex, unfamiliar and unexpected situations.
So what can we do to nurture and support a child’s voracious appetite for discovery?
Well, it’s important to know that their curiosity isn’t finite. It doesn’t have to diminish as they get older. In fact, by encouraging and responding to their questions, providing them with enriching environments and experiences and by demonstrating and sharing their own enthusiasm, parents and caring adults can ensure the longevity of a child’s inquisitive nature.
Of course, a child’s curiosity is at risk as they get older because society’s tendency is to teach and instruct, rather than let the child learn by investigation. Life is also busy and parenting can be hard work sometimes. It’s not always convenient or easy to create a learning environment. Educational environments aren’t perfect. And in today’s competitive, results-driven world, it can be hard to see the big picture.
However, parents and caring adults should know that they really do hold the key to unlocking a child’s potential.
One of the most important skills that a parent or educator can impart is enabling children to learn that they can satisfy their own natural curiosity through exploration. It helps with their physical, intellectual, emotional and social development and truly sets them up for life.
It’s really important to:
1. Provide an interesting, enriching environment. Children learn through play and there will be myriad opportunities every day for them to explore and discover new things - even in a seemingly mundane setting. Provide materials and props that inspire their desire to discover. Instead of toys that ‘entertain’ the child (eg battery powered ones), give them ones that fire up their senses and which encourage interactions.
2. Offer satisfying responses to their questions and enquiries. If a child feels their question hasn’t been fully answered, they’ll repeat it. A satisfying response that makes sense to them will set them on a path to deeper discovery. Children obviously develop differently, so it is important to give them appropriate responses and environments that match their interests, their personalities and their developmental stage. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t have the answers. It’s an opportunity to investigate further together.
3. Demonstrate your own inquisitiveness and share their delight in discovery. Children mirror adult behaviour and if they see and hear you investigating the world (talking about things, asking questions, looking up answers, reading etc), they’re more likely to follow suit.
Children love to learn about new concepts and they approach the world - and particularly the natural world - with wonder and awe. A backyard is an Aladdin’s Cave of exciting and unexpected things and it can be really beneficial to give children space and time in the garden so that they can feed their curiosity.
But kids don’t need rolling lawns and sweeping herbaceous borders to learn about the natural world. Even if you live in an apartment with no garden, plants in a pot, frequent visits to the park or regular strolls around the neighbourhood will help them learn about the miracle of nature, the importance of the environment and sustainability. There’s much to be gained by watching rain fall outside, listening to the wind rustling in the trees, observing bees pollinating flowers, enjoying clouds scudding across the skies and of course, feeling the textures of nature around you in soil, grass, leaves and so on.
A child doesn’t need to be old enough to speak in order for things to pique their curiosity. Tiny babies learn through discovery all the time. And as children develop, the trick is to tune into what they’re showing interest in and let their sense of wonder and awe guide their experiences. It’s the natural path to learning and figuring out how the world works and how they fit into it. A child’s endless ‘whys’ may be exhausting and even frustrating at times, but your patience, energy and care can set them up for a lifelong love of learning.
The notion that children are born curious is a central tenet of the Montessori and Reggio Emilia educational philosophies which are practised at leading childcare centres and schools around the world. Some places even encourage parents and caregivers to come into the centres themselves so they can continue to play an active role in feeding the child’s curiosity and building their skills.
Simone O’Brien owns Treasured Tots Early Education which operates three highly successful childcare centres in Perth, Western Australia.
She has been in the childcare industry for 14 years and has established Treasured Tots as the benchmark for quality childcare in Perth.
Simone qualified with a Diploma in Children’s Services and worked in childcare for a couple of years before recognising a dire need for childcare that offered families a loving, nurturing, supportive and warm ‘home away from home’. This prompted her to open her first childcare centre in Perth in 2011 at only 22 years of age.
Treasured Tots now has three childcare centres in Mandurah, Bibra Lake and Fremantle.
Simone is an active member of the Australian Child Care Alliance (ACA), a not-for-profit, member-funded organisation which advocates for the future of Australia’s children.
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