Everyone who is alive is curious about the world, especially children. After all, our universe – and everything in it – is brand new for them, so of course they are bursting with endless questions about life on earth. Which means “Why?” is a word, as a parent, you’re bound to hear a LOT at home!
And this is a brilliant thing. Curiosity is vital; the more curious you are as a person the more adventurous your life will be.
As an author and the host of Everything Under The Sun, a weekly podcast answering questions sent in by children around the world, I love listening to children and their curious questions – and my aim is that no child’s curiosity goes to waste.
Here are 6 great ideas for encouraging your child’s curiosity
1. Listen to their questions – and realise their importance
I think if you make a real effort to answer your children’s questions, however random they may seem or however difficult they are, then they will feel their curiosity is valuable and important.
Don’t worry about saying you don’t know the answer. It’s OK not to know, and it’s amazing that it’s possible to find out answers really easily thanks to the internet. Learning how to find answers and try things out are really important life skills that come from curiosity, and helping your child work out answers to their questions will build their confidence.
I love to take each question a child sends me very seriously and answer it myself by researching the answer or by finding the best expert to answer it for them. On my podcast, we’ve had Grayson Perry talking about clay, Lauren Child (creator of Charlie & Lola) musing on where ideas come from, and Sophie Dahl discussing why tortoises are so slow! People have been very generous with their knowledge and delighted to share it with children.
When children are little, we are their main source of information (alongside teachers and friends), so we ought to be the place they can go to ask anything and to know we will try to find out the answer with them.
2. Read books – and go to libraries and bookshops
Reading, reading, reading! Whether it’s reading aloud to your child or them reading to themselves, discovering new worlds through books is crucial to encouraging your child’s curiosity.
I love to go into a bookshop or library and sit in the children’s section and let my children just follow their own curiosity and see what they’d like to look at. It’s incredible that we have access to free books in libraries and they’re the most wonderful place to spend an hour or two falling into new realms. If you’re not sure where to start, ask the librarian or bookseller for ideas.
3. Slow down and notice the extraordinary in the ordinary
I’ve noticed my own children love the things I find ordinary. They love to hang the washing, work machines like the dishwasher, rinse things for the recycling. I think if you can slow down and chat as you do things together, they’ll be able to ask you about things they’re interested in.
Why not tell them the names of flowers on a walk, taste different varieties of apples and talk about their different flavours, talk about feelings and just slow it all down. You may find they help you to rediscover the magic in everyday life – after all, we’re living on a planet floating in space and, as adults, we forget that!
In the words of one of my favourite poems about parenting: “Make the ordinary come alive for them/The extraordinary will take care of itself”.
4. Talk to people
If you’re lucky enough to travel somewhere new, your children will discover how people live in other parts of the country or world, which can be a huge adventure.
You can also learn so much from chatting to neighbours, the postman, teachers at school and friends – encourage your child to ask people about their lives and things they love, and their world will become bigger and more interesting as they learn new things.
5. Follow your own child’s curiosity
I read a study that said curious children ask 73 questions a day – with the peak coming at around 4 years! Which seems shockingly young. It can be exhausting to be asked relentless questions but it’s also something to nurture and watch. I think try to keep things playful. Take your children with you to see things, try new foods, encourage them to delve into things they’re naturally interested in.
Once you notice things they are curious about, you can take them to museums to find out more, watch talks from experts online, read books, watch TV shows on the subject. Visit an observatory if they’re into the universe, zoos, farm parks or a bird sanctuary if they’re interested in animals. Or keep it simple: you could take time to look at a ladybird crawling across your finger and count its spots, or watch the birds and listen to their different songs, or lie on your backs and watch the clouds and see what shapes you can see them making.
In the future, our kids are probably going to have to be flexible, open minded, imaginative and innovative. There may not be the traditional jobs you can stay in for life anymore, so being able to think laterally and delve deeply into areas of life you’re particularly into could be really useful skills.
6. Let your child have downtime
To play, think and daydream. Let them work out what they’d like to do, what they’d like to wear, to draw, read or spend time doing. Make sure they have space in their lives for their curiosity to grow and their minds to relax. I love to get outside into nature, walk barefoot, paddle in the sea, watch the rain – hopefully you’ll see a rainbow – listen to the wind, watch leaves falling in the autumn. I think children who have the time to experience wonder and are allowed to follow their own curiosity end up being creative adults and creativity is a gift in any life.
Oh, and tell them how much you love them all the time! Even if they’re saying WHY for the hundredth time that day! Remember, every single thing that ever happened on earth happened because of curiosity. Someone thought, “I wonder what would happen if I do THIS? Or if I went there? Or if I asked this question?” Curiosity will gift your child a rich life.
About our author Molly Oldfield
Molly Oldfield (above, left) is the author of Everything Under the Sun: A Curious Question for Every Day of the Year, £25, a book inspired by her weekly podcast answering questions from children all around the world. Molly is known as The Original QI Elf and spent 12 years researching and writing questions for the BBC quiz show. She is the author of several other children’s books, including The Secret Museum, Wonders of the World’s Museums and Natural Wonders of the World.
Pics: Getty Images, Maisie Eden