No one understands how powerful the mind of a child is better than a parent of a toddler. Ask any parent of a three-year-old what curiosity in children looks like and the answer will be: rapid fire questions, continuous talking, loud off-key singing, and a return back to the questions again. Nothing tries a hardworking adult’s patience like coming home from work to a child armed with 756 “why” questions, 346 “guess whats,” and 28 requests to play. I can distinctly remember my own child’s requests to play with her dolls after a long day (check out the photo of me and my daughter (Makiah) as a toddler). Truth is, as much as I love my daughter, after a long day of teaching other students with equally inquisitive dispositions, my baby’s questions began to feel like an interrogation. But, as an educator, I knew how critical my doll playing would be for my child’s future social, emotional and academic progress. So, regardless of my physical or mental state, there I sat playing with dolls and hosting imaginary tea parties with my daughter. Looking back on it now, I wouldn’t trade that memory for anything.
The majority of adults know the first five years of life, especially birth through three, are the most important for brain development in children. Neural connections are being made in the brain each time a child uses one of his or her senses – seeing, feeling, hearing, tasting and smelling. Repeated new experiences help make new connections, the new connections form how the child thinks, feels, behaves, moves, and learns in the future. In a nutshell, progress significantly accelerates for curious children if curiosity is encouraged and nurtured.
In conversations with other educators through the years, we have often debated the exact point at which curiosity is “killed” in children. Most of us in the education profession are aware that younger children are “sponges” and are constantly learning from their environments at breakneck speeds. Sadly, at some point around the intermediate grade levels children, as a whole, stop displaying high levels of natural curiosity. Their questions and energy wane in classrooms around 3rd-5th grades, and almost never return. It takes a very special type of teacher to cultivate curiosity and encourage young minds to continue asking questions. Albert Einstein once said, “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” The energy and motivation of too many classrooms, and workplaces for that matter, seem to validate his observation.
Cultivating curiosity is important not only for those who are educating, supporting and raising children, it is also important for adults as we think about our own development. Maybe the fundamental purpose in our society should not be to hurry children to grow up; perhaps the fundamental purpose should be to cultivate and maintain our own childlike curiosity. Imagine how productive workplaces, schools, and organizations might be if adults maintained from childhood a strong desire to learn about and understand new things; to better understand how things work.
Curiosity is not just a trait for children. There are powerful benefits for adults who practice curiosity as a way of life, and here are a few:
Adults who are curious have active minds
Adults with active minds are continuously seeking new information. They are in a better position to learn new skills, attributes and adapt to new jobs. In a global economy that is changing at an unprecedented rate, people who are “learners” are better poised to seize unprecedented opportunities. Successful people like Albert Einstein, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet attribute their success in life to their sense of curiosity. In a 2007 talk with Charlie Rose, Buffet and Gates, when asked to explain the source of their success, gave the same answer: curiosity.
Failure is merely a learning experience for a curious mind
Curious people want to know why they fail and what they can do differently. They realize that failure is an opportunity to get it right the next time. They are reflective and do not expect to be right all the time. They are aware that sometimes the ability to unlearn or relearn is the best form of learning. This ability to bounce back and learn from failure makes them more resilient and adaptable than their rigid peers.
People curious minds have lives filled with excitement
Boredom is not part of their language or thought process. They are often full of wanderlust and are curious about other cultures and people. They learn new languages, have fulfilling hobbies, and approach life as one big adventure. Funnily enough, they are natural magnets of positive energy and attract others who are also on life’s adventure.
Most importantly, curiosity keeps the mind agile and sharp
Inquisitive stimulation keeps people “young.” We likely all know that elder who roller skates, dances the tango, golfs every day or volunteers at hospitals, schools, libraries, etc. And every time we meet them we tell ourselves, “I want to be just like them when I am their age!” We admire their youthful energy.
Curiosity brings a certain beauty to the lives of human beings and it is hard to imagine human progress without it. Maybe our charge as an adult should be to measure our success by doing a self-assessment of our own curiosity. Perhaps toddlers are on to something. Maybe we need to evaluate how often we ask “why?,” how many times we approach conversations with a “guess what?!” and how often we use play as a vehicle for stretching our minds and trying new things. Maybe we adults can learn from children. Maybe successful adults should act more like 3-year-olds. So, no, curiosity did not kill the cat. Curiosity is a virtue; giving life to motivation, energy, excitement, and opportunity!