FamilyHabits of Mind

Nurturing Curiosity in Kids

Every parent can describe at least one moment that stands out in their memory as a time where their kids demonstrated true and unbridled curiosity. Some of my greatest memories of my kids’ curiosity have come at the most unexpected times and in the simplest and most pure of circumstances such as: short hikes through nature, driving past interesting natural and manmade landmarks, celebrating life’s events and milestones, and sitting around the campfire staring at the stars.

This habit really brings out my teacher’s heart. I have spent close to 20 years of my life and career in classrooms asking students to explore difficult and complex questions such as: “what does it mean to be human”, “how do ideologies influence our thinking and behavior”, and “is globalization good or bad for our nation and planet”. Without placing responsibility for the world’s problems and challenges on the backs of my high school students, my goal in education was always to light a fire of curiosity within my classes and to help them with the skills necessary to ask meaningful questions and seek out the answers to the things they were curious about.

I believe that today, some of the most important habits of mind that parents can help develop within their kids are those of wondering about the world around them and being curious.  I remind myself regularly that like many things in life, my kids need my wife and I to model this habit for them and show them what a curious nature looks, sounds, and feels like. My kids need to see me asking questions and seeking answers, hear me sharing my thinking with them, and feel my excitement for learning something new. I love the following quote from an unknown source about curiosity as it serves as a great reminder of why curiosity is such a powerful ingredient in our children’s future success and happiness:

My wife Leslie and I know we don’t have everything figured out about how to help our kids develop a curious nature and a wondering heart.  We have tried many different things in our careers as educators and our lives as parents to stimulate curiosity and wonder in hundreds of different kids, including our own. I offer the following tips to you as examples of things to try with your kids.

Tips to Develop Your Child’s Curiosity and Wonder

Role Model It

More and more I am approaching my role as an #epic dad from the perspective that kids are our apprentices when it comes to developing the habits of mind we would like to see grow in them.  When a question pops into my head, I ask it out loud so that the kids can hear me.  I ask the kids to offer their answers or possible explanations. I hope this helps them develop a sense that it is Ok not to know the answer to a difficult question straight away. Our understanding of the world around us has grown because people have asked complex questions, come up with hypotheses, and then tested them out.

What I need to do a better job of in this regard is the follow up helping my kids test their own hypotheses. Like many parents I struggle with the tug of war between what must get done to keep my house from falling down and my job moving forward vs. the things I know are important but can be “put off until later” or “someday”.

Answer Your Kids’ Questions

When they are very young, kids ask questions almost non-stop.  It can get wearing and as a parent I know you may simply not have the time to answer every single question your child may have for you.

I have felt the stinging double edge of being a parent of a curious child. For example, it can sometimes feel like you are being bombarded with questions about simple and complex things while in the middle of an important conversation with your wife about whatever task you are both doing next on your “to do” lists.

I have been tempted to simply respond with “that’s just the way it is” or “because I said so” during these times so that I can get on to the next thing, and the next. What I remind myself of when these frustrated replies threaten to come out of my mouth is that the last thing I ever want is for my kids to stop asking questions, wondering at the world, and being curious.  I really don’t want to create an environment where my kids feel like expressing their curiosity is never rewarded.

Take time to answer your kids’ questions and explain what you know about the world to them whenever possible. Our kids look to us to help them understand themselves and their world and we are our children’s first and most important teachers.  Occasionally, they will ask you a question you don’t know the answer to.  Admit to them you don’t know and try to find the answer together.

Encourage Your Child’s Interests

Our kids’ natural curiosity will lead them towards topics they become passionate about. Right now, for my kids these areas of interest are rocks and minerals and mechanics for my boy and politics and environmentalism for my girl.

There are many questions that I cannot answer for them within these topics but these questions become opportunities for us to grow as a family, go on adventures, learn about other people, and develop as lifelong learners.

Let your kids lead you in ways as you help them explore their talents. Spend a day with them along a river looking for interesting rocks and fossils, serve your community together through a church or social issues organization, plan stops at locations you know are connected to their passions on your next long drive to visit the in laws. Let them know through your words and actions that their passions are important to you and that pursuing these passions, and learning as much as possible about them, can be extremely gratifying. Open yourself up to #epic learning as well.

Outlaw “Boring”

One of the phrases that I’d like to see outlawed from our family’s vocabulary is “I’m bored”. It can be tough to encourage your child to look for ways to be interested in things, ideas, and the life around them when they aren’t being stimulated.

I have fallen prey to hitting the “easy button” as a response to the “b-word”. I have done this by handing my kid my phone while waiting at a restaurant, playing endless movies on a long trip in the mini-van, or scheduling every moment of their day so that they have little down time to feel restless and need to become curious and interested in something on their own.

As my kids get older and more able to ask questions for themselves and wonder about the world around them in complex ways, my wife and I are working with them on challenging the very notion of boredom by pointing out that curious people are rarely bored. When we hear the “b-word” we challenge the kids to look around them and ask questions like how does this work, what can I learn about, how did it get that way, and what can this tell me about the world around me?

This is a work in process for our family but Leslie and I are certainly encouraged by what we see from the kids when we ask them to address their own boredom by being curious.

Model How to Observe the World

Curious people know how to observe the big and little details of the world around them. They are adept at seeing the exciting, mysterious, and interesting in their world and then having those details guide their questions and exploration.

I love modelling this quality for my kids! I know it can drive my wife a bit batty when I blurt out a seemingly random question to my kids (usually based on something I have just seen, heard, or thought).

For example, on a recent trip through Grande Prairie, I asked my kids to look at the structure pictured below as we were stopped at a traffic light. I asked them to give a possible explanation of what this structure might be. They came up with ideas like statue of a plane’s wing, a maker of an important event, a pointer so that the Swans the city is famous for know which way to go in the summer, etc.

What do you think this is?

The structure is the gnomon (center part) of a huge sundial.  They asked me how they were supposed to know that. I said they weren’t but, my goal was to have them notice this structure in the first place and be curious about it. What followed was a brief conversation about sundials and ways of telling time before modern clocks. Was a fantastic few minutes in between stopping and shopping!

Another way of accomplishing this goal is by showing your kids pictures of interesting places and people. I love asking question like:

  • What do you think is happening in this picture and why?
  • Why do you think this building is shaped this way?
  • Tell my about how the people are dressed. What can you tell me about their life or part of the world from their clothes?

Don’t Micromanage the Process

Like you, I want my kids to be successful as they are exploring their world. I can sometimes be guilty of setting things up for them so that there’s little opportunity for failure and mistakes, which are both critical components of the learning and curiosity process.

I have had to challenge myself to step back, allow them to follow processes that I know aren’t going to give them the best result because these small failures often lead to the best learning and deep curiosity as to “why”.  I have to temper my enthusiasm for explaining everything about what the kids are doing, learning, or building to them and challenge them instead to explain their thinking to me.

Allowing kids to make mistakes and take risks in a safe manner is something I am working on too. I often feel the need to swoop in and save the day to prevent them from feeling disappointed, discouraged, and frustrated.  Deep down, I know that dealing with these feelings and pushing through to get moving forward again is an important habit of mind itself connected to resilience and grit, as well as curiosity. Lately, I have been trying hard to offer advice and encouragement but allow my kids’ expressions of wonder and curiosity to play out under their control.

Explain the Impact of Curiosity on Our World

As parents, we can help our kids understand that curious people are the ones who create change and impact the world in positive ways. Choose inventors and inventions to learn about together such as Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Nicola Tesla, Marie Anderson, Stephanie Kwolek, and Elon Musk.  Help your kids understand that these folks and others used their wonder and curiosity to ask questions, solve problems and invent things that have changed our world in fundamental ways.

As our global society continues to place before us more and more complex problems and questions it will be folks who are able to wonder at and explore their curiosity the question, hypothesis, testing, question phases who will help us all move forward into the future.   Helping your kids to develop their curiosity will ultimately help not only the wider world but allow them to find joy and happiness in their observations and questions about the things and people right around them.

How do you model curiosity and develop in your kids?

Have an #epic weekend!


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Greg Esteves

Greg Esteves

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