Author Blog

Developing children's curiosity at home

As the school holidays near their end, Bill Lucas suggests some ways in which parents can spend time refreshing one of the most important aspects of learning character, curiosity

Curiosity is at the heart of all learning. Being curious involves noticing things, reading avidly and, of course, asking good questions. Young children have curiosity in great abundance, constantly pestering those around them with questions. Where does dew come from? Why does it get dark? Who is God? But it is all too easy to dampen children’s insatiable appetite to find out more. Of course it can be wearying to answer yet another question, but if you possibly can and at the same time if you can manage to show genuine interest in the enquiry, such role modelling will be a powerful influence for good.  

Being able to notice things is an essential component of curiosity. For some children (and adults) it seems to come naturally. For others it may need to be actively coaxed into a life. If you have ever been to an art gallery you will have an idea of what we mean. Some visitors seem to be able to see things in pictures that others completely miss. It’s the same with children. On a walk, for example, some children chatter away naming things as they go. Others talk less but you can tell that they are indeed noticing for they tell you about it later. A third category of child (and adult!) seems to walk through life without obviously noticing what is new or different or interesting. Parents and family members can help by playing games (the obvious one is I-Spy) and explicitly talking out loud as they go about any daily tasks. It can feel very odd, but it helps. Can you see the …? Isn’t it interesting the way that… What do you think that is? Family walks and car journeys are great ways of practising noticing. And with an iPhone in your hand children can be motivated by taking photos which they can return to later to discuss.

Reading for pleasure is probably the most important habit you can instil in your child. Some children take to it and need little encouragement, just a ready supply of books from the library. Others need lots of patient encouragement. There’s nothing more powerful than a whole family reading their books together. Children see their parents engrossed in a book and inwardly record the importance attached to the activity by the grown-ups. Routines help. Making uninterrupted time after lunch at weekends and in the holidays can work. Before they go to sleep is essential. If your child is reluctant then you will need all your skill to find topics of interest. One neat way of persuading reluctant children to read is to give them the chance to turn off their light really late occasionally at a weekend only if they are reading a book. Reading aloud to your children for as long as they will let you is vital. It helps if you can have lots of small selections of children’s books at a low height throughout your home.

Questions are the outward expression of our curiosity and the home is the obvious place to give them full rein. Simple things that work include: watching a wildlife programme together and then talk about it; making sure you have a good supply of simple reference books around the place – dictionaries, atlases, guidebooks etc; getting your children to create a treasure hunt around your house/garden and make up the clues; sitting beside your child and doing an internet search for something that one of you is curious about.

So, in the next week here are some things you could do to boost your child’s (and your own) curiosity. You might like to try one of these:


1. Question everything!


Show your own interest in questions, especially those to which you do not know the answers. Talk about out what’s in the news and what it makes you want to find out. Look at the news online with your family and Google things that interest you and your children.


2. Use the 5 Whys technique


Here’s a simple of way of encouraging deeper questioning. Your child tells you or shows you something and you ask a series of iterative ‘why’ questions. Let’s imagine she brings you in a dead plant. ‘This flower is dead, dad.’ Why (1)? Because it has not got any water. Why (2)? Because it’s come out of the ground. Why (3)? Because the dog dug it up. Why (4)? Because it was bored. Why (5)? Because we weren’t playing with it….


3. Stop answering your children’s questions


Apart from things which might pose risk (‘Is it safe to cross the road now, mum?’) try not to provide answers but instead respond to your child’s questions with phrases like: ‘What do you think?’, ‘That’s a great question; how could we find out more?’, ‘Who could help us explore this tricky idea?’


4. Try new things together.


Simple things like going to the library to get new books/dvds or cooking a new recipe together create natural situations in which questions can bubble up. You can be more adventurous – visiting new places - or safer – learning a new card game at home, for example.


5. Replace ‘Not now’ with ‘Why don’t we’


It’s so easy for us as adults to squash our children’s enthusiasm. We have stuff to do and it can conflict with our family’s expressions of curiosity. Take the opportunity of the holiday to put what you want to do to one side and let your own curiosity take over to explore something in which your child is interested.


A great resource for encouraging curiosity is the BBC’s iwonder.