Why do worms wiggle? Where does my shadow go? What do fish eat?
Young children ask hard-to-answer questions all the time. A typical three-year old asks more than 100 questions in an hour! As teachers, it’s often easy to dismiss them with a standard quick answer—and leave it at that. Did you know these questions are a great indicator of curiosity, which is critical for learning and highly encouraged in and out of school? A recent study found that curiosity, when combined with conscientiousness (or careful attention to tasks), affects achievement just as much as intelligence. We need to encourage those questions and help children discover the answers.
The word curiosity, just like the concepts of attention and learning, is somewhat hard to define. Yet we all know it when we see it. If someone is curious, they feel a sense of wonder, a desire to dig deeper into a question they find interesting. You’ll see this in inquisitive young children, asking “why?” when they encounter something new. Curiosity is the essential ingredient in being motivated to learn. Though the definition of curiosity is somewhat ambiguous, the characteristic is so desirable that the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) evaluates preschool programs based on their ability to foster curiosity.
When children are curious about a topic and willing to work hard to figure it out, chances are, they’ll succeed in it. If a child stays curious, he/she will continue to explore and discover. The process of exploring and discovery is what gives the child pleasure. It is up to us to promote this valuable asset in our students. One thing we can do is include time for play throughout the day. Create an environment that provides opportunities for both free and guided play and where children are encouraged to ask questions. Include a mix of types of play such as pretend play, construction play, physical play, dramatic play and more. An enriched playful classroom is one that fosters curiosity.
Though at times tiresome, children’s ongoing questions are an excellent sign of a thinking mind. So remember: the cat may not have fared well being curious, but all signs point to curiosity being great for our students!
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