“I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt
One of my favorite parts of being a teacher, and that I now love as a parent, is spending time with little ones who approach life with wondering, questioning, and exploring. Curiosity truly is a gift, and kids have it in abundance.
I strive to keep a zest for learning in my own life, and I also want to nourish that love of learning in my girls as they grow. Here are some of the ways we’re keeping the spark of curiosity in our daily life:
1. Slow down.
This one goes first, because I think it’s the most important. Kids need space in their day when there is no plan or structure. They need time to dawdle, daydream, and doodle. They need to follow their own interests and make their own observations. They should be bored sometimes and work their way out of it.
Keeping screen time in check is a good way to protect your child’s unstructured play time.
And, guess what? Grown-ups need all of this, too, which is probably why I only seem to have interesting ideas when I’m showering or trying to fall asleep at night. I’m trying to give myself more of this kind of time during the day – even if it’s just 15 minutes of letting my mind wander.
2. Write down questions and wonderings.
When my girls were toddlers and preschoolers, I used to jot down their funny questions and observations in my journal. When they got a little older, we would make posters or lists together of things we were interested in. We’ve kept a pad of sticky notes by our sliding glass door, and covered the window with our questions about the world.
Kids’ questions can come fast and furious sometimes. Validate their inquisitiveness by writing down their questions. Look together for the answers sometimes. It’s good to keep a list of all the things your family is interested in; you never know what may become a passion later on.
Our current record-keeping for questions is a stack of index cards on a ring. Sometimes, we bring our cards with us to the library and choose a question to research. Every once in a while, a question sparks a deeper interest, and we lug home a big stack of books on the topic for further research. It’s a wonderful chain-reaction of curiosity.
3. Read lots of great books.
After reading The Penderwicks, my girls wanted to learn Latin and become botanists. Frindle inspired their love for the dictionary and creating silly new words. There are so many rich and inviting books to transport you and your kids to different places and times. Reading great books fuels the imagination, builds vocabulary, and sparks interest. Read, read, read!
4. Curate a kid-friendly reference book shelf at home.
My girls love to read the dictionary. And, lately, they have been spinning the globe, landing on a country, and looking it up in the atlas. I recently rounded-up all our kid-friendly reference books from various spots around the house, and now find the girls using them a lot more. Plus, it’s fun to say “Check the reference shelf.” Ha!
Here are some books you might include on your reference shelf:
- Children’s dictionary and thesaurus
- Rhyming dictionary
- World atlas
- Foreign language books
- Field guides for trees, insects, mammals, etc.
- Star chart
- Animal encyclopedia
- How-to books (drawing, writing poetry, cooking, science experiments)
5. Be data-collectors.
There are all kinds of things to observe, count, record, and graph. We’ve made weather charts, tallied the various birds in our backyard, drawn moon phases for a whole month, and surveyed our friends and family about favorite foods and movies. This is meaningful work for kids, not to mention the math and thinking skills they’re building.
6. Provide access to creative materials and real tools (and junk, too).
Kids don’t need a ton of materials to inspire creativity and exploration. In fact, I would argue that less is more. However, it is nice to have some kid-friendly art materials available, a sketch book or journal, and a few real tools to try out. My girls enjoy using magnifying glasses, binoculars, a compass, and a student microscope. (Here’s the microscope we have – it’s affordable and awesome!)
Don’t throw all your egg cartons and cardboard tubes in the recycling. Whether you call it a junk box or an invention kit, kids will have a great time creating all kinds of crazy contraptions. Don’t forget the tape! We go through rolls and rolls of tape – can you relate?
Here’s to wondering, dreaming, questioning, and exploring! What are your kids curious about? How about you?