Encouraging Curiosity

Hedda SharapanMuch as I don't like the cold February weather here in Pittsburgh, one evening I found myself looking at a wintry scene with new eyes, thanks to Fred Rogers and our “Let’s Explore” workshop. As I was walking to my car in the parking lot, I noticed that the snow was especially beautiful. It was sparkling like diamonds. Normally, I would just keep walking and think how pretty it was. But that evening, inspired by Fred, I found myself going beyond that.

I started to wonder why the snow was so sparkly. Was it because of the way the lamppost light was shining down on the snow? Was it because I was looking at newfallen snow before footprints and car tracks? Or maybe there was more moisture in the snow so the extra water was catching the light? I’m not sure why - or even if I could understand a scientific explanation. I just enjoyed wondering about it and thinking about some possible reasons!

How can we encourage curiosity?

Model wondering

One of Fred’s favorite quotes was the Quaker saying “Attitudes are caught, not taught.” Children want to be like the adults who are closest to them. So when children see that we’re curious about things, they’re more likely to wonder, explore, predict and experiment, too. You have such an important influence on children’s curiosity – just from things that you notice or ask about or try to figure out.

(It also occurred to me that being curious about children’s behavior is one of the most important things we can do as professionals. Let’s wonder about children’s behavior that’s challenging for us. Where is it coming from? What happened just before? Is there a particular time of day when that usually happens? Or a particular activity?)

Ask questions about familiar, everyday things

In a deceptively simple moment on the video, Fred just looked around the room and mentioned lots of different things we could wonder about -- “How long did it take someone to write this book? How many stoplights are there in the world? Do fish laugh, or do they cry?”

Focusing on “science” with young children doesn’t have to be about major scientific concepts. Wondering and asking is part of “developmentally-appropriate” science in early childhood! Let’s encourage children to be curious about things in their everyday world. If they ask you why the sky is blue, you could ask “What do YOU think?” Or you could ask “What else do you KNOW about the sky?” and “What do you WANT to know about the sky?” If they’ve made a ramp for the toy cars, you could say, “I wonder what would make the cars go down faster?” Asking “What do you think would happen if...? ” can lead to some great “scientific” conversations! You might be in for a treat, too, because you’ll open the door for some of their fascinating – and delightful – ideas!

Remember that it’s okay to not have answers

Children don’t need answers. Neither do I. In fact, I don’t understand much about the scientific phenomena in my everyday world. But Fred always reminded us how important it is to be an “appreciator.” Wondering and marveling sets the foundation for us to appreciate the world around us – and when children see us wondering, marveling and appreciating, that’s contagious!

P.S. Thanks to all of you who have written about the newsletter. I always appreciate hearing from you, and I love to know how you're using our newsletter. It's really helpful to me as we plan ahead.

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