Teaching Character: Curiosity
Curiosity (and fear of Russia) got us to the moon. Curiosity gave us oysters - imagine being the first guy to think, hmmm, what if I crack open this wavy rock and slurp up whatever slimy nugget is inside?
Did you know that the entire reason James Cameron made Titanic wasn’t because he wanted to tell a Romeo and Juliet story on a sinking ship. It was the ship. It was diving down in the real ocean to explore, and incidentally film, the actual Titanic at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. His curiosity, mixed with a good dose of imagination, got him to the bottom of the ocean. Look how that turned out for him.
So cultivating curiosity can, and often does, lead to big adventures. Here is a really interesting matrix on how important curiosity is to the developing child.
But, why is it truly important? Because curiosity makes your brain work. And a working brain is an active brain; one that creates realities, one that discovers possibilities and one that feels alive and engaged. All good things for growing children and adults alike.
Children come to us curious. It’s hard wired. Just think of that newborn, searching around with his mouth, smelling and seeing for something, anything, to suck on. What’s this big round boobie in my face? Ahhh. Bliss.
Or maybe a better example would be the ‘whys’ of a 2 1/2 year old. Sure, it makes you want to run screaming from the room, but to them, the world is an infinite well of wonder.
So our job as parents is more about cultivating curiosity, coaxing it out. There are gazillions of ways to do this - the world is your oyster You can get started with these, though, if you’re stumped:
1. Nature. Go for a walk and open your eyes. Observe. And see what your kid observes. Pick up rocks to see what’s under them. See where a path leads. Your curiosity will lead the way.
2. Don’t be a know-it-all. Get comfortable with the phrase, “I don’t know,” and follow it up with, “Let’s find out.” This will not only model your own curiosity but your bravery and willingness to search for what you need. It’s a short cut to learning.
3. Keep your fear in check, and theirs. First, your fears might come out as disapproval, as in “don’t touch, don’t climb, don’t fall, don’t get dirty…” The message you mean is ‘keep safe (and clean)’, but the message you are sending is completely different. They hear “touch, climb, fall, get dirty” and then hear your disapproval of those things, and possibly disapproval of them. As for their fear; a fearful child will search out safety, looking to stay within her comfort zone thereby seeking the familiar, not needing to explore. If you keep their immediate world safe - as in predictable, consistent and loving - then they are free to roam. And roam they will.
4. Turn yourself upside down. Take a different perspective. Lay down in a field of grass and look up at the sky, asking aloud why the sky is blue. Turn a book the wrong way. Experiment with the expected.
5. Wonder out loud. Create time (even a minute will do) to stop and wonder together. Ask questions of your child that are open ended and magical in order to spark their imagination and wonder. I’m not saying to ask, “Do you have to go potty?” or anything, but “Why do grasshoppers hop?” Silliness works!
A quick note about our fear: in a way, we have created a world, based on our own fears, where our children are so safe they are unsafe. As in, you can take ‘curiosity killed the cat’ too far. Take walking in the woods for example. A) How many kids walk in the woods, period? B) Do they walk over downed tree limbs, stomp through shallow streams, in general test their own physical boundaries?
Often, because we love them, parents tell children to not do those things because we know that it might lead to bruises, or worse. Unfortunately the cost of all that safety is safety itself. Children can’t learn where their boundaries are, what they are capable of, if they don’t test it.
photo credit: Alain Wibert