Encouraging curiosity in kids: Here's what to know

Children are born inquisitive, and it is this curiosity that allows them to learn more about the world.
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By Michelle Balani

Children are born inquisitive, and it is this curiosity that allows them to learn more about the world through every experience and social interaction. Children like to explore, question, and use their imaginations, and this positive cycle of learning is fueled by the happiness that comes from discovery. Curiosity involves asking questions, finding answers or creating solutions, and not being afraid of failure. Research has shown that when children question and examine what is around them, they do better at school, in relationships, and at work.

Challenge your child to try new activities—even if it’s just to see what they are like—since part of curiosity is to learn about the unknown. Director of the Rutgers Social and Emotional Laboratory Maurice Elias says that at this age, your child is more curious than at any other time in his life, and you can use this to introduce him to new experiences. Equally important is the question, “Why do you think that is?” The essence of curiosity is to question how and why things do or do not happen or how things might happen differently. Gardening is a good way to foster your child’s curiosity. It allows your child to connect with nature and learn more about where food comes from. Why do we have to turn over the soil, fertilize it, dig out different holes for different plants, and put them different distances apart? All a child needs to be curious is the ability to recognize what is interesting about the world around him, and you can help by continuously pointing to new things.

Encourage your child to explore activities he likes even further. When you are responsive to your child’s interests, you are providing opportunities for his curiosity to flourish. For instance, if your child likes to cook, allow him to be creative with ingredients, or invite his friends to join. Or you can have him and his friends pretend that they are running a restaurant. Provide them with simple props from your kitchen like empty food containers, spoons, pots, and pans. Activities like these can help spark your child’s imagination. By doing this, you are not only encouraging his interests, but also planting the seeds of what may become his future occupation or lifelong hobby.

If your child feels anxious about trying new things and taking on more challenges, let him know that it is natural to feel this way, and listen to his concerns. When you are accepting of your child’s fears, you are also strengthening his curiosity and your relationship. Children are more curious when they feel that they have a strong support system, and by providing him with positive reinforcement, you are fueling his creativity and encouraging him to experiment with new ways of thinking and acting. Children who are curious are more open to new experiences, more comfortable dealing with anxiety and obstacles, and more resilient. When you encourage your child to be actively curious, you are championing his quest for discovery and helping him to navigate through any obstacles he may face.

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; Jennifer Miller, Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids; and Michele Borba, Author, and Educational Psychologist.