Christmas and birthdays were tricky in our house. The children were always there so keeping secrets was a challenge. Especially since they were so incredibly curious and had eyes that didn’t miss a thing.
“What’s in that bag?”
I’d scurry upstairs furtively with some secret shopping and call out, “nothing.”
“What’s the postman brought?”
I’d stuff the parcel under my desk quickly and respond. “Nothing. Only some bills.”
“What’s in that box?”
Sometimes there was no getting away with it and I’d just have to say; “Your present, but you mustn’t look.”
I knew this would have the same effect as requesting a thousand word essay on the law of gravity and get the same result; the opposite.
So I’d search for a hiding place that would be big enough to conceal it and that they wouldn’t think of looking. I’d settle on their dad’s drawers, they wouldn’t dare look in there for fear of coming across his boxers.
That’s just the trouble with bright children, isn’t it? They’re more curious than the proverbial cat. But it’s our fault really; we’ve encouraged it because that’s exactly what we want; curious and questioning children.
Have you ever thought what curiosity is? It’s basically children wanting to know things. And wanting to know things also interprets as wanting to learn things. Children want to learn about the world around them – your secrets included. But curiosity, when it’s not focussed on your secrets, is as valuable an asset to motivation, to education, as you can get and wants encouraging.
Curious and questioning children cannot help becoming educated. It doesn’t even have to be curiosity about the subject in hand. Or about any specific subject come to that. Because having a generally curious attitude to life is the same as having a general eagerness to learn. Curiosity has the effect of inspiring children to learn for learning’s sake, without even realising it. And it makes the children not only interested in learning but also come to understand, again without realising, that learning itself is interesting. And this attitude is a precursor to becoming educated.
Children are born naturally curious. They’re born reaching, grasping, tasting. Put any infant in any room and they’re into cupboards, opening drawers, fiddling with switches and particularly fascinated with the contents of the dustbin. They are desperate to do these things because they are curious and want to find out.
In other words; they want to learn about their world.
They plague their parents with questions, get themselves bruised, grazed, and into trouble for their curiosity. In fact they are pure, unashamed, curiosity-led learning machines. Even as they get older. Unless of course they get their curiosity killed.
Unfortunately that happens a lot.
It’s easy to do. Most adults are driven to distraction by their child’s curiosity and most particularly by their questions. And the children more often than not get told off for it.
‘Don’t touch’. ‘Put that down’. ‘Leave that alone’. ‘Mind your own business’. We’ve all used those statements at some point I would guess.
But most particularly, I feel, children tend to get their curiosity killed when they go to school. Unfortunately the approach in most schools, the way in which they implement the National Curriculum, and the inevitable peer pressure, leaves no room for curiosity. In school it is not cool to ask questions, or to want to know more, or to be interested, or keen. And teachers don’t have time to answer thirty questions a lesson – and that’s only one per child – of course they don’t.
No one does curiosity. There’s no time. It’s more likely to get you ridiculed or snubbed. And there’s nothing worse than humiliation for killing curiosity dead.
This is one of the sad things about the way the schools educate children. The teachers don’t have any time to make use of one of the best opportunities available for learning; answering and encouraging the questions. Through your child’s curiosity and their questions you have the perfect opportunity to extend their knowledge and understanding, encourage conversation and thus language development, provoke thinking skills and mental development.
I looked at our insatiably curious toddlers hell-bent on learning about everything, then I looked at some of the uncurious switched off adolescents that I saw and I’d think; what happened to your curiosity and interest in the world?
It probably got snubbed somewhere down the line. It probably got well and truly switched off. How sad is that?
For just think; wouldn’t it have been a loss if Isaac Newton had his curiosity snubbed before he wondered about the apple falling down? Wouldn’t it have been a loss if Darwin had stopped being curious about the origin of species?
I’m not advocating that we run ourselves ragged dropping everything to answer all our children’s questions there and then, pandering to their every curious whim. That wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing. Children have to fit into society and live with others and understand that adults are not simply question-answering machines. And they have to understand when to be safe instead of curious, and when it’s not appropriate to ask questions – especially loudly, as one of my children did one day as we sat on a park bench next to a complete stranger.
“Is that man wearing underpants, mummy?” I’ve never seen anyone cross his legs so quickly. He walked off adjusting his fly.
All I’m saying is that if we could be a little careful with our child’s curiosity we will perpetuate their desire to learn rather than destroy it. Even though there’s a time for answering questions and a time not to do so, curiosity is still desirable. Curiosity needs nurturing. If we can be frugal with, ‘don’t’, and ‘leave that alone’ and ‘for goodness sake stop asking me stuff all the time’ (yep – that was me one day), we can avoid the danger that they stop being curious about their world.
It helps to remember that those endless questions and irritating behaviours like eating earwigs (one of mine) and posting things in the CD player (the other one) are really them just learning about their world.
Curiosity means they’re motivated to learn and is one of the most invaluable assets our children can have for their education. A curious attitude has a knock-on effect upon all their learning. It develops an educated mind. And is something to be encouraged as much as possible. A curious mind cannot help but learn.
This story first appeared in my Home Education Notebook, where you’ll find plenty more to help you along your home education journey.