Since the iPhone brought the internet out of cyber cafes and into our pockets, our worlds have grown smaller. We might think that increased access to Google means that we’ve become more curious, but curiosity is actually more about the questions we ask than the answers we reach.
Toddlers are the most curious people I know. Spend a day with any child who has learned the word ‘Why?’ and you know exactly what I mean.
‘Why can’t I have ice cream for dinner?’
‘Why do we have to hold hands?’
‘Why do fish need water?’
Any answer you give elicits another question, and another, and another.
When did we grow out of our curiosity?
We all want our students to develop open, inquiring minds, but what qualities are we actually looking for? What questions do we want them to ask? And what is the end goal of all this questioning that we’re asking them to do?
Adults are keenly aware that the nature of the workforce has changed and the days of 30-year service awards are disappearing Current statistics reveal that millennials change careers every few years in search of better pay, better conditions, and new ways to use their skills and pursue their passions. It’s highly likely that current school students will join this self-directed protean career path in search of fulfillment, reinventing their careers as their work environment and interests change. If they can’t find the job they want that supports their values, they’ll probably create it.
Organisations are now looking for T-shaped employees who have deep skills and expertise in an area (vertical) and proactively collaborate across different disciplines (horizontal) to contribute to their area of knowledge and others fields of expertise. T-shaped employees are curious about their own areas of interest, and genuinely desire to harness other people’s expertise and use that knowledge to contribute to the social knowledge community. Whether your child wants to be a politician, a brick layer, a musician, an accountant, a teacher, or a full-time parent, curiosity is an essential workplace skill.
But there is more to education than preparing for a career, and there is more to curiosity than gaining marketable skills. Curiosity is also an essential life skill.
In 2019, Associate Professor Mario Di Paolantonio wrote a study about curiosity in education where he made the case that education and learning helps us to achieve self-improvement and self-actualisation. By understanding ourselves and the world we live in, we are better equipped to contribute to social improvement, which is intimately linked to the careers we choose.
In other words, there is more to learning than brain work or intellect. Our learning informs and engages our passions, sense of purpose and meaning which in turn increases our learning and our capacity for meaningful contribution.
This corresponds with psychology’s concept of the four types of intelligence:
- IQ (Intelligence Quotient): understanding and remembering information and being able to apply your knowledge to different situations.
- EQ (Emotional Quotient): emotional intelligence, or the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and empathise with others.
- SQ (Social Quotient): your ability to make and maintain relationships.
- AQ (Adversity Quotient), also known as resilience.
Curiosity is fundamental to each of these. To grow in intelligence, academic talent is less important than willingness to learn. To have positive and fulfilling relationships with ourselves and others ,we need to be genuinely curious about or our own inner lives as well as those of others. To be resilient, we need problem solving skills which requires us to be curious about creative solutions.
So how to we encourage curiosity in our students? The rise of project-based learning and increased focus on independent learning in upper primary and high school is a positive trend, but since learning happens in all areas of life, not just in the classroom, we need to support our children’s curiosity at home too.
- Be a curiosity role model
Share your discoveries with your family. Admit when you don’t know an answer and find out together. The best way to encourage your child’s in-class participation is by encouraging them to ask questions at home and reminding them that there are no silly questions.
- Create space for wonder
Allow free time in your family schedules to give students time to think deeply instead of accepting the first answer. There is usually more than one way to get the answer in maths, more than one method to test an idea in science, and more than one meaning to an English text. Include space in your own schedule to be available for them to ask you questions too.
- Ask open-ended questions
Curiosity questions the status quo. Encourage the use of examples in family discussions and debates. Ask questions to guide your child to discovering the answer for themselves and respect their ideas, no matter their age or limited experience: they have potential.
- Utilise mistakes
Mistakes are excellent learning opportunities. As students get older, resist doing the problem-solving for them. Instead, guide them to acknowledge the mistake and brainstorm solutions. Likewise, reward learning as well as great marks.
- Encourage empathy
By being interested in other people’s experiences of nationality, gender, job, culture and belief systems, we develop empathy. Curiosity reduces stereotyping, increases community and team mindsets, and helps us to practise genuine listening skills.
At Nepean Tutoring, our tutors value and intentionally foster curiosity in their students. We know we can’t prepare the world for our students, but by helping them develop the knowledge, skills and confidence to solve problems, we prepare them for the world that awaits them. Are you interested in tutoring for your child? Contact us today to see how we can support your child’s curiosity and their future.
Di Paolantonio, M. The Malaise of the Soul at Work: The Drive for Creativity, Self-Actualization, and Curiosity in Education. Studies in Philosophy and Education 38, 601–617 (2019). DOI: 10.1007/s11217-019-09653-4.