Raising Curious Kids

by ChristinaPilkington on May 28, 2011 · 6 comments

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Most people say they value curiosity, especially parents. Parents want their children to be curious, creative and imaginative. But, if we look at what most adults view as “appropriate” outlets for children’s behavior and learning, are those qualities really valued? 

Here are five qualities almost all curious kids possess: inquisitiveness, imagination, inventiveness, messiness, and fearlessness.  All young children have these qualities. Yet, as they grow older most children become a little less inventive or a little more fearful. Why? What can we do to stop it?

Inquisitive – Curious kids love to ask questions, lots and lots of questions. All parents know this. Before my kids starting asking questions, I remember thinking how much fun it would be when they’d start. I’d imagine the great conversations we’d have, all the natural bonding and learning that would take place.

Well, it isn’t always like I’d imagined. Yes, there are many, many times I’ve loved answering their questions. Their questions have led us to talk about so many different subjects than I’d had thought possible at such a young age. On the other hand, I wasn’t quite prepared for how MANY questions there would be- one after the other after the other. It gets downright exhausting!

But it’s impossible to stifle those questions without also stifling their curiosity. There may be times when I have to tell my kids that I need to take a tiny break from talking, but I try to always go back and ask them if there are any other questions they have or anything else they needed to talk about. The more kids feel free to ask questions when they’re younger and are not afraid of someone telling them to stop or laughing at them, they more they will feel open to asking difficult questions or asking for advice when they’re older.

Take your children’s questions seriously. They are asking YOU for an answer. I often see people trying to turn kid’s questions into questions for the kids to answer or turning them into “teaching moments,” which really means a lecture on the topic. If you asked a question of someone, how would you want them to respond?  That’s what I try to keep in mind when my children ask me questions.

Imaginative-Curious kids usually have deep, vivid imaginations. They ask questions to themselves and think of possible ways to answer those questions. Often time the “misbehavior” of young children is simply them testing their imaginations. Questions like: what will this feel like, or what will happen if I do this, are very important to young children. 

Schools say they value imagination, but real imagination cannot be limited to writing or telling a clever story, pretend playing during center time or even thinking up different ways to solve a math or science problems (if they’re even allowed that).

What if a child imagined what it would be like to fly? Would he be allowed to dream up some way that could happen? Would he be allowed hours to sketch of flying machines…eh, hem, Leonardo di Vinci style, or dream of a future where humans can fly or teleport themselves?  He probably won’t figure out how fly or beam himself up to another world, but he’ll explore new topics and learn all sorts of fun things. Most importantly, though, he’ll know his imagination is highly valued and not limited to “appropriate” outlets.

Inventive- Curious kids want to make their imaginations come true; they want to invent and create things that make their abstract dreams a concrete reality. I think most children are little inventors. If they are allowed to they will invent their own way of learning to walk and talk, of getting out of their crib (if they sleep in one), of how to get on top of a counter and when they are older how to read, solve number problems and so much more.

It’s only when us adults step in and impose the “correct” solution that this natural inventiveness gradually fades away. Some kids keep this quality into their adulthood; they usually become professional inventors, engineers, scientists, and so on. But more people would be inventive and creative in their everyday life if they hadn’t been convinced that only “experts” or those with degrees or certificates have the correct solutions.

Messy- Curious kids are messy. I know of quite a few people that think messiness and curiosity don’t have to go together.  I couldn’t disagree more. To find out how things happen, to ACTIVELY do something, messes have to be made. Young kids especially need to make messes.

Believe me, this is not always an easy thing to remember.  As a parent, it often means lot more work than you might have bargained for.  And at times it can be incredibly frustrating.  But, like it or not, imagination and messes go hand in hand.  My theory is: the bigger the child’s imagination, the bigger the messes they’ll make.

At two years old, my twins took a tub of butter upstairs and smeared it all over a room: walls, doors, carpet, and windows. Was I thrilled at their wonderful imagination at the time? No. My first thought was to cry at all the work I had ahead of me. But, I’m glad I didn’t jump to yelling and “punishing” them for their curiosity. For goodness sake, they were two!

Instead, as we cleaned the mess together, we talked about butter, where it came from and how it can stain; we talked about how people sometimes make sculptures out of butter; and, yes, we also talked about how it’s not a good idea to spread it on the walls or anything else without asking mom and dad first. 

Another time they took twenty-four bottles of water and dumped them down a vent. Again, they were little and curious about what would happen. In those cases you have a choice to make. You can yell and scream and punish. Or consider the possibilities of what they’re curious about, and provide other ways for them to test out their theories where it won’t cause damage to property or people.

Fearless- Curious children are fearless. If you’re scared of someone laughing at your questions, you’ll be afraid. If you’re limited in how to express your imagination, you’ll be afraid to imagine something bigger and grander. If you’re punished for making messes, you’ll be afraid to create and invent.

Children who are encouraged to be curious are fearless. I don’t mean they don’t have natural fears and worries, but they’re not afraid to be loud and bold and expressive. They’re not insecure and worried about what others think of them. We need more curious people in this world, people who don’t automatically take what others say as the final word. Fearless children turn into fearless, strong leaders, inventors, problem solvers, artists, and compassionate adults.  

What qualities do you see in your curious children?  How can we help those from disappearing?

I’d love to hear from you. You can leave me a comment at the bottom of this post, or e-mail me at chris@christinapilkington.com

Photo Credit:  Mads Boedker

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  • Laura Weldon

    This post is going gangbusters on my free range learning FB page!

  • annalouiza

    i really appreciate this. My older daughter constantly gives her brother grief about his questions and inventions. This stops this morning! Thank you.

  • Vaness

    Your article sounds very useful and practical !
    I have translated into French and share it with the link to your blog:

    • christinapilkington

      I’m so glad you liked it! I hope your readers find it valuable, too.

  • Jsears

    I was told I was a bad parent because I believed in this type of stuff. My kids always knew how good or bad the dollars were this week, I tried to never say no unless I really meant it so I didn’t keep changing my mind & we too had some amazing conversations as we wandered along life’s pathways. I now have 2 fabulous young adults for friends who allow me to share in their lives unconditionally.

    • christinapilkington

      That is crazy to think people would call you a bad parent simply for showing unconditional love to your kids! I always think the way I raise my kids is pretty normal until I run up against mainstream parenting again and again. Well, I can only say that I hope when my kids are adults that I can have just as close a relationship that you have with your kids. Thank so much for sharing this!

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