Tag archives: enquiry

Thursday, 28 February 2019

The importance of curiosity (with some wonderful quotes)

IMG_0773I was delighted to watch this little boy exploring this lovely Narnia bench. Curiosity in action. A while ago, in preparation for a training day I was giving called Enquiring Minds, I did some research on curiosity. It is becoming more and more apparent that if children are to thrive – mentally, emotionally and academically – they need curiosity.

I love this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.’ Actually curiosity seems to be innate to humans, but it requires nurture and support.

Years of working as a clinical psychologist have led Todd Kashdan to the conclusion that cultivating curiosity is the key to wellbeing. Research demonstrates links between curiosity and self-confidence. It supports resilience, and has been shown to impact positively on empathy, sociability and relationships. It’s linked to creativity too.

The Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage sets out the characteristics of effective early years teaching and learning: playing and exploring; active learning; creating and thinking critically. It seems to me that we shouldn’t restrict this outlook to the early years, nor to educational settings. In Einstein’s words: ‘Play is the highest form of research.’

According to psychologist Sophie von Stumm ‘The most reliable predictor of achievement is a hungry mind.’ Ken Robinson has called curiosity the ‘engine of achievement’ (though I’m not sure I totally agree with his view that ‘If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance.’) The historian Sir Richard Southern said ‘we learn by being puzzled and excited.’ Over two millennia ago Plutarch wrote ‘The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited’.

This is Einstein again: ‘The important thing is not to stop questioning.’ In the view of cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham ‘It’s the question that stimulates curiosity. Being told the answer quells curiosity before it can even get going.’ How vital exploration and enquiry are, whether at home, in pre-school or school, in libraries, in museums, in the open air, in fact anywhere and everywhere. Great when initiated by children, and valuable too when prompted by adults.

The more we encourage children’s curiosity and sense of wonder, the more we help them towards a thirst for and a joy in learning and new ways of thinking.

Here is 12 year-old Megan Jo Tetrick: ‘If we didn’t have libraries, many people thirsty for knowledge would dehydrate.’ Important to remember what a crucial role books, libraries and librarians perform in nurturing curiosity. Not just libraries of course. These are the words of a parent, reflecting on the effect of a university outreach programme on her primary-age daughter: ‘It took ages to walk home from school last night because she was wanting to stop and pick up every piece of rock and look at every stone we walked by.’ Lovely to read this parental response following a visit with a young child to Manchester Museum: ‘Cerys is wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the things here that we don’t have at home or anywhere else. It’s helped her notice things more in other places too.’

To end, here’s a snippet from Jan Mark’s wonderful children book Thunder and Lightnings. This is a conversation between Victor, who has a learning disability and finds school work demanding and difficult, and his friend Andrew.
‘I thought you didn’t like learning things,’ said Andrew.
‘That wasn’t learning that was finding out.’