Meaning: The reason we hear so much about nurturing and caring during the early childhood schooling years is that curiosity flourishes best when the environment is safe and familiar. When young children feel the assurance of loving teachers and feel the familiarity of their peers and the routines of the school day (if they are in a preschool program) and likewise when they experience the comfort and familiarity of the home environment (when they are at home and not yet in school), these are the times ripe for fostering curiosity and inquiry in the young mind. When the child’s surroundings are comforting and predictable, the conditions are best for the brain to be exploring, seeking, and pursuing curiosity, pursuing novelty, from a full multi-sensorial perspective. While curiosity and exploration must be nurtured during these crucial early years to stimulate neuronal connectivity and synaptic plasticity, the concerns of safety and danger come into play—but this safety concern shouldn’t mean placing the child in a daily bubble. A young child’s curiosity certainly must be monitored and guided, and any forays into troubling or dangerous actions, like inserting a fork into an electrical socket, these episodes will demand intervention and correction. Assuming a safe environment and the vigilance of caring adults nearby, giving the child new sensorial experiences, such as touching and squeezing different fabrics, or introducing the child to different smells, or setting up a scavenger hunt for objects of various colors, shapes, and materials—these are just a few tactics to promote the stimulation of sensation and the igniting of curiosity. And while we all know that the prefrontal cortex achieves its highest level of development much later, during the post-adolescent years, we can still regard the early childhood ages of infants through four years as a most propitious time frame in which to stimulate curiosity, expose the child to a multi-sensorial world, and introduce critical thinking skills by way of offering choices alongside validation for choices having been made. Encouraging a child’s curiosity, giving them opportunities to explore, allowing them to make choices with two legitimate options available—these are the key tenets of INQUIRY. Fostering the inquiring mind at the younger preschool years will definitely pay dividends down the road, because the imbedding of curiosity and promoting a culture of asking questions will contribute to greater meaningfulness in one’s life.
Actions: Feeding the curious mind and thus developing the neuronal connections associated with healthy brain development can be accomplished in so many ways, ways that are continuously being applied across the landscape where early childhood schooling is embraced and practiced. Curiosity, exploration, making choices, become more responsible—these are the traits that will spell success academically and developmentally later on in life. Here are my two favorite ways I see adults/parents inspire curiosity in toddlers: the adult will model interest and enthusiasm about something in the child’s vicinity and will take that modelling further by turning the object over, inspecting it closely, and linking the object with other things that represent a similarity or even a contrast of sorts—shape-wise, color-wise, function-wise. A parallel tactic for inspiring exploration and an inquiring mindset is to follow the child’s natural curiosity closely; by taking their lead, the adult is in effect validating and confirming the experience of curiosity and the venturesome spirit. When the child turns to something that is a bit more troublesome or potentially hazardous, rather than scolding or discouraging, it is best to kindly redirect attention. Affirming the right and safe choices will work better than reprimanding for wrong choices. Explanations and rationales can come into the picture much later, as the young child is likely to be more confused by the downward shift in tone. Another reason to keep matters on the plane of positive affirmation is to steer clear of the dynamic of seeking negative attention, which children will easily turn to as they figure out the compelling connection between bad choices and the strong emotions parents will exhibit. Above all, during the child’s first four years, applying a playful tone, playful strategies, and open-ended playfulness will always work to nourish the inquiring mind.
Learning: I always love seeing the articles on the sites, www.zerotothree.org and www.parenting.com. The Zero to Three article of interest is, “Tips On Nurturing Your Child’s Curiosity,” and on the Parenting site, see “10 Easy Ways to Fire Your Child’s Imagination.” A book that pulls from several great thinkers and researchers on this topic is, Curious Minds: How a Child Becomes a Scientist, by John Brockman. A superb piece on the curious mind in young children is, “Ages & Stages: How Curiosity Leads to Learning,” by Alice Sterling Honig, found on the Scholastic.com site. There is also a site specifically for articles on creativity for kids—check out “20+ Inspiring Articles on Creativity for Kids,” found on the tinkerlab site: https://tinkerlab.com/creativity-for-kids/.