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Encouraging curiosity in preschoolers: Here's what to know

Children are naturally curious because they are learning through every experience and social interaction they have.

Preschoolers and kindergarteners often have active imaginations, and they enjoy using their curiosity to explore their feelings and their world. Curiosity helps children be more observant and to think about things and try to figure them out. When children explore their curiosity, they expand their vocabulary as they use language to describe what they’re thinking, seeing, hearing, or experiencing. You can help your child’s growth by supporting her curiosity.

You can nurture your child’s curiosity by providing them with opportunities to explore. At this age, kids love to learn about plants and animals, and you can begin to encourage your child’s curiosity by finding ways to help him or her connect with nature. Take her to a zoo, a park, or a hike and bike trail, and point out animals or plants you see there. Help him name what he sees, like a squirrel or flowers. At this age, your child is a careful observer, and by encouraging her to use her curiosity to learn about plants and animals, you are teaching her to appreciate and enjoy the nature around her. If there’s a particular plant or animal he is drawn to, you can further his learning by reading a book together about that animal.

Unstructured play is the best way to encourage and nurture your child’s sense of discovery. By providing your child with free time to play, you are allowing them to use and practice their curiosity and imagination. Try to give your child the chance to play on his or her own and with others, and make sure not to intervene unless you absolutely need to. Maurice Elias, director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, says that you should not expect that your child’s play will always make sense, or that they will use toys, games and other objects for the purposes for which they are intended. Your child is also likely to want to make up their own rules for games. As they go into elementary school, it will be important for them to know that there are some things that require that rules be followed, and some times when curiosity and imagination are fine. It’s a tricky balance, Elias adds, but for young children, it’s good to try to give their curiosity the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. There are also many factors that can get in the way of your child’s curiosity, like too much screen time or over-scheduling of activities. If you do not allow some time for unstructured play, you may be inhibiting your child’s imagination.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Maurice Elias, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab and Judy Willis, Neurologist, Teacher, Author, International Lecturer, University of California, Santa Barbara.