Banish the phrase “I’m bored” from your family’s vocabulary this summer. In its place, encourage your kids to say, “I’m curious about …”
Let your child run with his curiosity and he’ll be able to dig deeply into a topic from many angles. For example, let’s say your child is interested in NASA’s rover Curiosity. She can keep up with the rover’s latest discoveries online, save up for the new Lego model of the rover and research her questions, such as why Curiosity will never come home.
Kids can also pursue their interests through open play, which is one of the best ways children learn. A 4-year-old space nut might pick up a phone, dial a few numbers and say, “Calling Curiosity,” then ask if the robot’s wheels and laser are working.
Another child uses the same phone to pursue different interests, calling all his dinosaur friends before roaring about like a T rex and making a cave out of a box.
Curiosity is what researchers call a “soft skill,” as opposed to easier-to-measure “hard skills” like reading and math. Evidence shows that soft skills like curiosity and creativity, while hard to quantify, are critical to students’ success.
Victoria Ryan O’Toole, creator of the Molly Moccasins stories, games and activity books, says our society is overly dependent on TVs, computers, smartphones, books, magazines and other people to keep us constantly occupied and entertained.
O’Toole created her series, featuring a bright, imaginative and curious girl named Molly, to inspire young readers to find meaning and adventure in backyards, museums, farms, libraries and forests.
“Stimulating your children’s curiosity is a wonderful gift because it enables them to continually learn, grow and question the world they live in,” she says. Her tips to help parents encourage curiosity in their kids include:
• Be a good role model. Take advantage of your kids’ “monkey see, monkey do” tendencies to increase their curiosity. Whenever a question pops into your head, ask it out loud, then try to find the answers together.
• Answer questions. Give your child an answer or explanation whenever possible, and try to engage him in discussion afterward.
• Encourage your child’s interests. Your child’s curiosity will naturally lead her toward topics and activities that interest her. Too many rebuffs will teach your child that other things are more important than pursuing topics they’re curious about.
• Give your child tools. Give your kids the ability to pursue the things they’re curious about on their own.
• Help your child live in a stimulating environment. Kids are interested by pictures, new objects and new experiences. Toddlers and preschoolers need to stimulate their senses. As your children get older, help them find things to do. Don’t just turn on the TV or gaming system and allow it to “baby-sit.”
• Don’t micromanage. Let your child engage in open-ended play. Don’t always tell her how to do something. Let her figure things out for herself.
• Allow your child to make mistakes. Making mistakes, then figuring out how to get up and move forward again is an important part of staying curious and resilient.
The first dictionary that O’Toole ever received was inscribed with a powerful message from her favorite uncle: “A curious mind is never bored.” As soon as she read that line, she says she knew life would never be boring again.
And it won’t be for your kids, either, if you banish the word “boring” from your house.