Children are born with curious minds. It’s one of their most defining characteristics.
Spend time with a baby, and you witness our innate desire to explore and make sense of the world around us. Babies prove a sense of awe and risk-taking from putting every object in their mouth to learning how to walk.
As toddlers learn to communicate, their curiosity reaches new levels. They begin to inundate us with questions (that can sometimes drive us crazy). They conquer the slide for the first time, start to make friends, and explore boundaries (our favorite).
As they grow, curiosity is stifled by adults.
As children grow, this natural curiosity is often stifled by adults. To protect them, we favor safety and conformity. “Be careful!” “Stay within the lines.” We are moving so fast through life that we don’t have time to let our kids explore. We’re so busy jumping from one thing to the next, from this place to that.
Technology has changed our lives, offering ease, convenience, and entertainment like never before. We are more stationary and laser-focused on screens. Every new invention and iPhone release has us indoors with our heads down.
When curiosity isn’t nurtured, children lack problem-solving skills.
Children who are not encouraged to explore lack important creative and problem-solving skills. As much as we want to help our kids and save them from any hassle, jumping in will prevent them from figuring things out independently. That could lead them to stay home much longer than we would like!
By fostering curiosity in children, we can help them grow into lifelong learners.
In The Yes Brain, authors Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson state that children who are open and curious are more willing to take chances. They are more imaginative and better at relationships and handling adversity.
Learning these skills doesn’t come from textbooks and lectures. It is gained through exploration and inquisitiveness. Cultivating a passion for curiosity instills a life-long desire to gain knowledge. By nurturing curiosity from a young age, children can build upon these ideas as they mature.
A curious mind can counteract boredom because they have an active imagination. It produces persistence and endurance and develops a growth mindset. Children grow into curious adults and are generally more self-sufficient and innovative. They are more selfless and empathetic since they are aware and inquisitive of their surroundings.
Raising children who are curious and excited about learning is one of the best things we can do for them.
1. Encourage and allow children to make their own choices
Giving a child space to make their own decisions instills confidence and independence. When they’re little, providing them with a few options keeps everyone safe (especially their outfits).
Parents can promote curiosity with simple acts of independence throughout the day. Encourage them to pick their clothes, items in their lunch box, and what restaurant the family will eat at. This will empower them to make good decisions. Honoring and allowing their selection shows that their choice is important to you.
2. Share in sensory activities
Sensory play includes any activity that uses the 5 senses – sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. They engage in cognitive skills and develop gross motor skills. Sensory activities influence how your child learns about their world. While it can get messy, each experience has the ability to build new connections that grow the architecture of the brain.
There are plenty of free and simple sensory activities in our everyday life. Walking barefoot on the grass and eating food with different textures is easy and accessible. More sensory activities include:
Each one helps children learn and make sense of new things. Water play is also a great sensory activity. You may need it after participating in any of the above!
3. Ask open-ended questions using the 5 W’s
Remember the five W’s from our school days? Who, what, where, when, why. (And how, though it’s not a w. I don’t make the rules.) Using these five words to begin a question changes how a child responds. This helps develop curiosity by encouraging more thoughtful and elaborate answers.
“How does the grass feel on your feet?” “Where do you think the bird is going?” “What magic power do you wish you had?” “Who would you want to be for a day?” “When do you have the most fun?”
There is no “right” answer here, so you’re broadening their thinking process. This also helps strengthen their confidence in their ability to express themselves. It also shows that you’re interested in their unique idea or opinion.
4. Inspire a love for reading that will encourage curious minds
Reading encourages curiosity by introducing children to ideas and realities beyond their imaginations. Reading opens their mind in an engaging way. They can deepen their knowledge of their interests and learn about new topics.
Read with them and pause for questions and conversation. “Why do you think she’s sad?” “How do you think he’s going to solve this problem?” “Why did this happen?” The back-and-forth boosts language development and the parent/child connection.
5. Explore new places
This doesn’t have to be an all-day field trip or an expensive vacation. Exploring a new place can be as simple as changing up your routine. Check out a different park in your town or go to the farmers’ market instead of the grocery store. Even taking a different route on your neighborhood walk can shake things up.
Introducing them to new places encourages curiosity. Each experience inspires them to learn more about their new environment. Expose them to new cultures, people, and places. This will also foster an appreciation for the world around them. New places inspire a value of experiences over things.
6. Create a kid zone
Create a space in your home that allows kids to have safe and unstructured play. The intent is for you to have to intervene as little as possible. “Don’t touch that, it will break.” “That’s not for climbing.” “Get your feet off.” Instruction and guidance aren’t welcome in the kid zone!
An area designed for them provides independent exploration without a hovering parent.
This doesn’t need to be fancy, so take the pressure off. Remember, they have basic (and low) standards at this age! An area with ample light is more conducive to learning. Offer bookshelves and toy storage systems at the toddler level. They should be able to access everything themselves. Include a reading nook, table and chairs, or bean bag. A great option is the modular kid’s couch that can be for seating and play.
Keeping these areas organized is important as kids learn best in clean spaces. Keep clutter at bay because it can be a distraction. Simplicity encourages creativity.
7. Be selective about toys
It’s no surprise that kids (ourselves included) are becoming more and more dependent on devices and entertainment. Some of which actually shrink childrens’ imaginations and interfere with relationships. For more on the effects of digital culture, listen to this conversation between Janet Lansbury and Susan Linn on raising critical thinkers in a commercialized world.
The right toys can encourage curiosity if we know what to look for. These activities will promote problem solving and critical thinking. Because they can be utilized in a variety of ways, they keep little minds curious!
Most of these toys will be wood or heavy plastic, battery free (they can make their own sounds!), and branding free.
These provide countless hours of free play! The variety is endless and they will grow with your babies and toddlers into the elementary years.
It’s a good practice to rotate these toys every few weeks to conquer boredom.
8. Foster curious minds through communication
There are many ways parents can promote curiosity through simple conversation.
9. Allow trial and error
Parents often want to jump in and help children reach solutions. After all, we can do most things better and faster. Show them it’s ok if they don’t have the right answers or don’t achieve results the first few times. Encourage them to explore new strategies and methods and give them space to fail.
Children who have everything done for them grow up to be ill-equipped adults. Discovering solutions on their own is a rewarding part of the learning process. Curiosity coupled with enough problem-solving skills is essential to developing self-sufficient adults with a growth mindset. Learn more about the power of a growth-mindset here.
10. Go first
A life of wonder starts with mom and dad. When adults share with their children their own curious minds, it sends a positive message to children. They see that exploring new ideas and concepts is encouraged rather than stifled. It opens the possibility of expanding their knowledge and understanding of the world.
Showing them that it’s OK to be inquisitive spurs them to ask more questions. They will remain curious throughout their lives, thus creating lifelong learners. Enjoy seeing the world through their eyes. Foster an inseparable bond by exploring it together.
11. BONUS! Be patient with their curiosity
We must slow down and give our children time to stop and smell the roses. Literally and figuratively! Instead of rushing from one thing to the next, give them the freedom to tinker and investigate. Check out my podcast with Sissy Goff on how to combat cultural busyness to protect our kids’ mental health.
Be patient with the thousands of questions. Remember, it’s a good thing! Welcome and entertain their inquisitive nature. Raising children who are inquisitive and excited about learning is one of the best things we can do for them.
Remember, you’re not starting from scratch. We are born curious so we are simply creating space for this skill to grow and develop.
As you can see, nurturing a child’s natural curiosity is essential to their growth and development. When providing children with opportunities to explore and experiment, adults give them the resources and guidelines they need to discover things independently. Not only does this help cultivate their curious minds, but it also boosts their ability to come up with their own creative solutions along the way.
Spending time nurturing curiosity every day can promote genuine camaraderie between child and parent. All of the above allow us to explore our senses and imaginations in a setting that encourages discussion. It’s a fun way for children to really engage in learning in meaningful ways that stick with them long after the lesson ends.
For more tips on how to develop children into healthy and capable adults, jump to my blog post on How to Have Happy Kids.
Like anything, it starts with us. Happy parents raise happy kids so I have something for you too. Get your copy of The Year of Living Happy here.