A+ Advice for Parents

Curing 'Whatever' and Fostering Curiosity

Q: At Parent Night, our principal told parents to encourage our kids' curiosity and to welcome their questions. My 6-year-old son asks questions incessantly (and often annoyingly), but my 11-year-old couldn't be less curious. She's like, "whatever." Why the emphasis on curiosity?

A: Sorry to hear about your daughter. A sense of curiosity is not only a key to deeper learning; it also adds excitement and wonder to life. It's not too late to cure her of "whatever."

"Curiosity has a powerful emotional component. It works on our pleasure center," says Hank Pellissier, director of the Brighter Brains Institute. Yet, he notes, children start to lose curiosity between the ages of 5 and 12 because of the lack of listening support from adults. Common curiosity-killing responses are "look it up" or "you don't need to know."

Curious students often do well in school. "I'd argue that the best learners -- a term not necessarily synonymous with 'best students' -- have curiosity in abundance," writes Burlington, Vermont, educator Erik Shonstrom.

How does curiosity help? It makes your mind active instead of passive, and makes you open to and observant of new ideas, says Donald Latumahina of lifehack.org. "When you are curious about something, your mind expects and anticipates new ideas related to it. Without curiosity, you miss them, because your mind is not prepared to recognize them."

There are always new things to attract a curious person's attention, says Latumahina, and "always new 'toys' to play with.

"Curious people have an adventurous life," he added.

Latumahina suggests six easy strategies to help develop curiosity.

-- Keep an open mind. Be open to learning, unlearning and relearning.

-- Don't accept things at face value. Dig deep beneath the surface.

-- Don't label something as "boring." When you do, "you close a door of possibilities," says Latumahina. Curious people always see a subject "as a door to an exciting new world. Even if they don't yet have time to explore it, they will leave the door open to be visited another time."

-- See learning as fun, not a burden.

-- Read widely. Doing so "will introduce you to the possibilities and excitement of other worlds, which may spark your interest to explore them further," Latumahina suggests.

-- Ask questions. "What, why, when, who, where and how are the best friends of curious people," says Latumahina.

Sometimes kids need to get comfortable with the give-and-take of questions. Biophysicist Gregory Stock wrote "The Kids' Book of Questions" (Workman, 2015) to encourage thought-provoking, curiosity-inducing conversation within families.

Inquisitiveness is highly predictive of intelligence, says Pellissier. One 2002 study he cites followed highly curious 3-year-olds and found that at age 11, they had higher academic grades, superior reading ability, and IQ scores 12 points higher than their less-inquisitive peers.

Take it from Albert Einstein. He believed that "the important thing is not to stop questioning. Never lose a holy curiosity."

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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