If you were asked to name that one trait which has led to many discoveries and inventions in the history of the world, what would it be? Curiosity, right? Beginning from Lewis Carroll’s fictional character Alice who mumbled, ‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ as she slid down the rabbit hole to discover a wonderland to masterminds such as Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Alexander Fleming, it is this curiosity which is a common trait. Does it mean that your child needs to be in the league of Newton or Fleming in order to discover or invent something? Certainly not. All that is required is to keep the eyes and ears open.
So, how do you encourage your child's curiosity? Here are some ways to do it.
1. The little quiz masters: ‘Why is the sky so high?’ ‘Why does the camel have a hump?’ – Do such questions from your child tire you? And, do you snap at your child every time she pops a question at you? If your answer is ‘yes’ to both these questions, you have failed to fuel your child’s curiosity. Children are curious by nature and their curiosity is manifest through their umpteen questions. Unless you encourage your child to question and make sure you answer her questions, you cannot instill this trait in her. Remember, questioning is a part of inquiry-based learning.
2. The power of observation: Make your child observe his immediate environment. Let him be a keen observer and not a casual one. Also, arouse in him an interest in his surroundings. Only when he evinces interest will he be able to observe. Let him be alert to anything new or out of the ordinary and examine it. Thorough examination will make him exclaim as Sherlock Holmes did, ‘Elementary, my dear Watson!’
3. Variety is the spice of life: Ensure variety in activities. If your child is engaged in the same activity all the time, monotony and boredom will set in. This will only curb her curiosity. Therefore, introduce different activities to her. Let her explore new tasks and challenge herself. Such tasks will prove to be the right stimulus for her curiosity.
4. The old curiosity shop: Make sure your child has the right resources and tools to pursue his interests. Otherwise, his curiosity will be snuffed out. Only when he is provided with the necessary resources to develop his interests will he continue to pursue them. It may mean enrolling him in a library or a robotics club, getting him gardening tools and equipment or setting up a mini laboratory at home. Whatever it is, invest time and energy in providing it for him.
5. Autonomy counts: Let your child engage independently in activities and projects. Even if she makes mistakes, it doesn’t matter. She will learn. Working independently and learning from trial and error will aid curiosity. Do not constantly oversee, micromanage or dictate terms to your child about the tasks. Allow her to freely explore ways and means of accomplishing them.
6. All for experimentation: Encourage your child to try out different approaches when engaged in tasks and solving problems. Set methods will never help curiosity. Let him experiment and innovate. Do not discourage his creative spirit. Experimentation will lead to divergent thinking which is a very important aspect of a curious nature.
7. Shh… suspense: Nothing better than stories to encourage your child’s curiosity. Be it bedtime or a lazy afternoon during the weekend, narrate an interesting story to your child but do not complete it. Leave it open-ended. Ask your child to come up with the ending. Suspense will aid curiosity. Let your child analyse the characters, question why they acted in a certain way and come up with her own endings. You never know what Dickens or Stevenson is hiding in your child.
Here's what our very own little scientist Ishaan Abraham Pichamuthu, a nine-year-old from Vellore, Tamil Nadu, has to say about how curiosity helped him in his discovery.
I have always been interested in insects, fish, shrimp and other water creatures. My father introduced me to them and now I have three aquariums at home with a variety of fish.
Last year, during the summer holidays, we took a family vacation to Kodaikanal to beat the Vellore heat. We went boating in the Kodaikanal Lake. As usual, I was looking intently at the water to spot fish and pluck water lilies. Suddenly, I noticed small, delicate, white flower-like objects floating below the surface of the water. I became very curious and drew my father's attention to them. On closer examination, we realised these little flowers were pulsating and swimming on their own! Then, it struck us - these were jellyfish! As we looked on, we saw there were hundreds, if not thousands of them all around the boat in the water. It was a strange sight because father told me that jellyfish are rarely found in freshwater lakes. So, I quickly grabbed some empty plastic water bottles which were in the boat and caught as many of them as I could. Back home, a search on the Internet made us realise that none of the literature had mentioned this particular species (with its hundreds of tentacles and balancing cells). So, we sent a specimen to the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management at Anna University in Chennai and the Christian Medical College, Vellore where they were carefully studied for more than six months. At the end of the study it was concluded that my jellyfish samples were a whole new species! I was so thrilled! Maybe they will call it Limnocnida Ishaani!
We don’t have to be a grown-up or a scientist to discover or invent something. If we keep our eyes open and follow our natural curiosity we can all be discoverers.
Well said! Ishaan’s discovery will be added to the 2017 edition of Animal Discoveries records by the Zoological Survey of India. Amazing, isn’t it?
‘We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths,’ said Walt Disney. Let us encourage our children’s curiosity and help them tread new and unexplored paths.
Activities to nurture your child's curiosity:
- Picture books
- Open-ended stories
- Nature walk
- Indoor Treasure Hunt
- Open-ended art activities
- Nature walk & Field trips
- Outdoor Treasure Hunt
- Fun experiments