Babies are born curious. It’s miraculous and, unfortunately, fleeting for most.
Sir Ken Robinson, in his video (http://www.wimp.com/educationparadigms) Changing Education Paradigms, talks about divergent thinking, which isn’t the same as creativity. If creativity is “the process of having original ideas which have value,” then divergent thinking is “an essential capacity for creativity. It’s the ability to see lots of possible answers to a question.” In an example, Robinson says a creative person might come up with 15 uses for a paperclip, but a divergent thinker can come up with 200 by asking questions like, “Can the paperclip be 200 feet tall and made of foam rubber?”
A study published in Breakpoint and Beyond tested 1,500 kindergarten children in divergent thinking. A whopping 98% of them scored at genius levels! The same children were tested five years later, and again five more years later, and each time, their scores dropped dramatically.
There are steps you can take as a parent or teacher to encourage a lifelong thirst for ideas that will benefit the child and, one day, the world.
Lead by example and show curiosity. Go outdoors and wonder aloud at the trees, the stars, the clouds, the smells coming from bakeries and restaurants, the patterns of roof tiles in houses you pass. Your child will see that curiosity and wonder are traits you share and will feel encouraged to be curious, herself.
Follow your child’s lead by encouraging her natural interests. If your child enjoys music, fill the car and the house with it and take her to free concerts and gigs.
Use open-ended questions. “Yes” and “no” can get boring. Instead of asking, “Did you have fun?” try instead, “What did you do that was fun today?” or “How do you feel about going to the park?”
Redirect curiosity when it’s not convenient for you. If your child loves looking at bugs in the mud, change her out of her nice clothing and let her do it in secondhand gear. If she loves the potted plants but has trouble keeping them upright, show her how to treat the leaves tenderly. If she loves spilling drinks from the table, give her cups of water to overturn in the bathtub. The point is to encourage curiosity without prohibiting curious behavior.
Ask “What do you think?” before answering questions. This encourages your child to be an independent thinker rather than to depend solely on others for information. This initiative will become increasingly important with age. Asking what she thinks before answering can also help you to answer the question in an age-appropriate manner.
Be okay with not knowing the answer. This can teach humility and the initiative to pursue answers from other sources, like the library, other people, or the Internet. Just be sure to follow up on unanswered questions together. Write them down with your child to encourage persistence.
For more on curiosity in children, take a look at http://www.ted.com/conversations/1535/why_kids_lose_curiosity_in_the.html what TEDsters are saying. TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) is a global set of conferences aimed at disseminating “ideas worth spreading.” (Check out TED Talks on Netflix or Hulu; they’re fascinating.) One well-informed user in a thread about childhood curiosity brings up the recent research on adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus (which transfers short term into long term memory). This system breaks down naturally with age, but some researchers believe that as an event seems less likely to occur (something learned with time), the brain has less incentive to be curious.