Genuine curiosity is the mother of all learning. Stirring curiosity makes our children successful students in the present and sets them up to be self-directed, lifelong learners. If you’re having trouble engaging your children in meaningful learning, curiosity is the key.
I could spend hours reading and listening to podcasts about rock climbing, but you would have to strap me to a chair if you wanted me to learn about car mechanics. Why? Because I’m curious about rock climbing! It might be the opposite for you – and that’s great! We are all predisposed to be interested in different subjects and thus have different contributions to make to the world. One of the keys to drawing out and engaging the curiosity of your child is to explore and discover what they’re already interested in. You probably know what some of these subjects are; it could be creepy crawly bugs or trains and what makes them run; maybe it’s cooking and baking or Middle Eastern geography. Make a list of these subjects so that you can reference them and keep them at the forefront of your consciousness when planning lessons and activities with your child. For example, if a word problem on your child’s math page talks about combining apples, inject your child’s love of insects and change the problem to talk about bumblebees and dragonflies. Continue your lesson with a discussion on how these insects would react to one another once they are “added together” in the same environment.
It’s also important to keep in mind that we can only be interested in things we’ve been exposed to. Perhaps your kids would love rock climbing, but if they’ve never been, it would be impossible to draw on this curiosity. Continually keep your eyes out for opportunities to expose your children to ideas and activities that are novel and align with your values. This achieves two important things. One, your children will gain more interests and hobbies during their childhood that you can draw on as you learn together, which expands the possibilities for how you can teach them. Your children also learn to see the world as full of possibility and adventure and will become more disposed to expand their horizons, even after they leave your nest.
But do be aware of yourself as you introduce your child to new things. Just because you think an idea is interesting doesn’t necessarily mean your child will – and that is okay! Give them the freedom to draw on their intuition, and they will naturally learn. Pushing and cajoling are often counterproductive.
Some great, cost-effective ways to get started would be:
1. Visit a museum, zoo, or aquarium. Most of these institutions offer free or reduced-admission days, and some libraries even offer free passes that can be checked out by children and parents. Chicago Public Library, for example, has such a program. Click here to learn more about it.
2. Go to the library! Once you have a list of your child’s interests, encourage them by finding engaging books or videos at their level.
3. BrainPop is a wonderful website with a variety of engaging, kid-geared videos on subjects ranging from famous scientists to Hispanic American heritage to the art of debate. They offer some free videos and also a membership to access their full library.
4. Take advantage of kid-friendly search engines. I recommend Kids.gov, but you can find many more by doing a search of your own.
5. Go rock climbing. Ride a train. Dig up some bugs in the backyard. Travel somewhere, even if it’s just a couple of towns away. The best teacher will always be actual experience, so go out and do something fun with your child that gives them the opportunity to see in real life what they’ve been learning with you or through books and videos. It will be immensely powerful for your child and will motivate her to learn going forward.