Curiosity: Important Trait for Honolulu Children

Understanding this trait and why it is so important to your child’s well being.

We are born curious creatures, able to see new worlds and possibilities. We ask questions, are observant of new ideas and are bound for an adventurous life. Together, parents and educators can foster this important characteristic so our children can have the best chances of success.

When was the last time you found joy in seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary? Thankfully our children provide sweet reminders of this intrinsic ability, as William Blake wrote in his 1863 poem, “Auguries of Innocence.”

To see the world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.

Walk through nature with a small child and you will witness such innocence, curiosity and awe as they delight in their surroundings up close, in minute detail, with a new discovery in every fern, flower, frog or finch.

We all come into this world with eyes wide open, eager to learn and full of questions. As life takes over and we mature, the loss of innocence inevitably happens. The ability to be creative, innovative, and adventurous does not come as naturally to us.

More than a century after Blake, a British educator named Sir Ken Robinson emerged from the hallways of the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, to speak with authority about the relationships between education, creativity and innovation.

In 1998, he was asked by his country to lead a national study concerning creativity as a factor in economic growth and development. His now famous report, All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education, was highly acclaimed for the connectivity it created between good education and the arts, leading Robinson to give a now-famous speech in 2006, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

Robinson asserted to 1,500 public- and private-school teachers in Honolulu two years ago that, in effect, the longer children stay in school, the less capacity they have for “divergent thinking,” a term educators use for creative thinking.

Simultaneously, Robinson’s work underscores the unequivocal data we have had for years demonstrating that integrating the arts into schooling generally, and in all subject areas, enriches and improves educational outcomes altogether.

This is not to say that students become better artists, although that is a distinct possibility. Rather, it means they are schooled in such a way that they become more successful in every field: science, medicine, business, government and in every walk of life that requires innovation.

The same curiosity that motivates the young, inquisitive child who walks through nature drives the mind of the mature researcher to find new and better ways to treat cancer, put a man on the moon or design a “green” building.

More than ever, the world calls upon education to cultivate curiosity in the minds and hearts of all students. Parents play a major role as well, particularly during the early years. Keeping in mind that humankind has an innate capacity for curiosity, we know from observing the world that some adults retain more of this invaluable emotion than others. Why?

Working against sustaining the creative mind are forces at home and at school that diminish the richness of culture via standardization and conformity. At home, the traditional rituals of life such as reading aloud before bedtime or the early morning sharing of dreams or plans for the day, are replaced by rushed and harried substitutions for the real thing: for example, reading aloud is replaced with television shows, dinner conversation with eating on the run. 

At school, the coverage of narrow content deadens the imagination. So often, the triumph of “back to basics,” with employment and productivity being the stated outcomes, robs children of the joy of learning, the time to explore and discover within a broader curricular context, and produces the opposite of the desired outcome. When Harvard Graduate School of Education Professor Tony Wagner, author of The Global Achievement Gap, interviewed 600 corporate leaders, he asked, “Which qualities will our graduates need in the 21st century for success in college, careers and citizenship?” All leaders included “curiosity and imagination” as part of their reply.

We all know that the relationship between an adult and a child are fundamental to the development of the child. How do we, as adults, continue to pique our children’s interest in the world around them and help them remain curious?

A basic assumption is that, as children grow older, they become more independent of the adults around them. They learn to walk, talk and explore the world on their own. Yet, studies on curiosity show that adults actually become more important as children develop.

The avalanche of “wh” questions becomes a daily occurrence–why, when, what. In a 2007 study by the Society of Research in Child Development, children were observed talking at home with their mothers. The children in this study asked an average of 76 information-seeking questions per hour. The children asked two types of questions: those that sought facts about the world and those that sought explanations, the latter being asked by older children. 

As hectic as our lives are, it is important for all parents to take the time to listen and to encourage their children’s curiosity. Look upon it as a positive sign that you’re helping your children in their growth and development.

In classrooms, for curiosity to flourish, it must be encouraged, facilitated and guided. According to Susan Engel, who wrote “Children’s Need to Know: Curiosity in Schools” for the Harvard Educational Review, “Adults (teachers) can help children expand and refine their questions. They need to invite and encourage children to pursue their curiosity. They need to help children become more systematic and probing in their investigations and explorations.”  This turns the role that we commonly see for teachers from one who merely answers questions to one who fuels questions. As one sixth-grade science teacher noted, “There is inherent creativity in students asking their own questions … the process of having to think about one’s own questions requires creative thinking.”

Being curious may be an intrinsic state in early childhood; it is through interactions with adults such curiosity will ultimately be fostered or inhibited. Encouraging investigation is a starting point for a life that is more creative, innovative and adventurous.