Initiative & Curiosity

Infants develop trust.  Toddlers develop independence.  Preschoolers use their trust plus their independence to explore the world.

Initiative involves seeking the answers to questions and jumping in to experiment with new materials or experiences.  Unstructured play is essential to a child’s motivation to learn and develop.  Teachers can help motivate children by offering activities that can be scaffold to meet the individual needs of those in your care.  (Scaffolding is planning activities that are slightly more challenging than what you know the child is capable of doing).  If you present activities that are too difficult to do, the children will quickly loose their motivation to try.

     Preschool children are learning to assert their power to control their environment.  They are beginning to take initiative by planning, taking on a challenge, and then setting out to accomplish a task.  As teachers we need to set up environments that are interesting and supportive of children’s curiosity.  We want children to try new things.  We want them to test things so that they know the answer and not guess the answer.  Often timid or submissive children have difficulty getting involved in play.  Teachers can help by modeling what to say and do to initiate play with peers.  For these children it is better to introduce new experiences gently and safely. 

     Curiosity involves experimenting with materials, wondering about things, and being interested in the world at large.  It is a pre-requisite to science and social studies. Curious people ask questions, search for answers, and are able to think outside the box.  When we give children choices about what they want to do and what center they wish to explore, it motivates them internally and they are more likely to retain information gathered.  We can take advantage of teachable moments by being responsive to children’s curiosity whether it’s digging for worms or dressing a baby doll.  Early stimulation of the brain is critical to preschooler’s development and language acquisition.  Learning should be fun because learning is play and play is young children’s work.

     To develop and strengthen curiosity we can teach children to observe life using the scientific approach.  Observation is the first step.  Provide activities that can be used in a variety of ways.  This causes a child to observe and then predict what might happen.  (These magnet blocks stick when I touch the sides together). Next step is the Predict/Hypothesis step.   (If I turn the magnet block it will stick together and I will be able to make a cube shape).   Experiment to see if prediction comes true (The child then begins to manipulate the magnet blocks to make the cube).  And finally Apply knowledge.  By using the information that the child gathered through exploration and experimentation she will be able to use the information to make a new prediction (I was able to make a cube with the magnet tiles.  I wonder if I can change it into a rocket ship by building the tiles very tall on top of my cube?  Or I wonder if these magnet blocks will stick to other things?).

     Young children learn using all their senses.  It is o.k. that our rooms get messy, this is a place for children’s explorations and these are often messy!  If we discourage or dismiss children they will loose their sense of curiosity and become dependent upon others to think and do for them.   During the preschool years children begin to fully understand cause and effect.  A cause is the reason for an action.  If there were no cause, there would be no action.  The effect is what happens because of the cause.  Because it is Saturday (cause), there is no school (effect).  Children learn to draw conclusions from past experiences or general rules such as there is no school on the weekend.  If this is a joyful experience they will continue to explore.  If this is a frightening or awful experience they will shut down.  We want children to continue to explore, as it is through repetition that one masters a skill.  And a child who is motivated by an activity is less likely to display challenging behaviors, wander the room, or become whiny.

     Children are naturally curious.  Because of this it is important that teachers are enthusiastic to children’s exploration (or at least fake it).  Your approval helps build a child’s confidence and self-esteem, which in turns fuels his desire to explore more of his world.  If you show fear of something that is not a safety issue, you can pass that fear onto the child who will then stop exploring.  (I have witnessed teachers who are fearful of toads and pill bugs, both of which cannot hurt you.  Your fear then gets passed on to the children and they no longer show curiosity towards toads and pill bugs).  Enough disinterest and disapproval from adults and children will no longer be curious about nature, their world, or how things work. 

     Teachers should be modeling asking many who, what, where, when, why, and how questions.  By learning to ask these questions, children are beginning to think in scientific terms.  They are learning to hypothesize (if…then, I wonder… how did you… how does it work?  What will happen if…)?  The art of teaching is to find a balance between lesson plans that we are required to write and carry out verses the flexibility to change plans in order to follow the children’s interests. 

Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious”.

Ideas to help spark curiosity

Maybe not quite THIS messy
  • It’s o.k. for a child to paint their hand at the easel or to dip their hand in glue.
  • Teach the children to see-think-wonder.  What do you see?  What do you think?  What do you wonder?  (I see a bird pecking at a tree.  I think he’s eating.  I wonder what he is eating)?
  • When children are exploring materials ask questions that make the child think about what they see or what they are doing verses what color is it or how many do you have?
  • Pattern play: encouraging different children to make simple or more complex patterns as you scaffold your expectations to meet each child’s needs.
  • Sorting activities to help show similarities and differences in objects/pictures
  • Encourage children to observe nature on your playground.  (What is the ant doing?  How many legs do you see?  Can you find where they live)? 
  • Use loose materials on the playground such as milk crates, packing boxes, wood planks, long sticks, pinecones, etc.
  • Encourage children to predict what will happen next in a story.
  • Find ways that the children can help brainstorm ideas with you (what book should we read at naptime)?
  • Ask “I Wonder “why, how, and what questions often as the children explore materials in your classroom.
  • Rotate out materials that the children are not using.
  • Introduce new materials to the children.  Make sure that if there are rules or expectations that you share them at this time.  (The gak needs to stay on the tray and not on the table or floor).
  • Scaffold your learning objectives so that children on several levels of development can participate using the materials in meaningful ways.
  • Teach the children the Scientific Method to help develop thinking skills.  Observe, predict, experiment, and apply.
  • When talking with children about what they are thinking or doing, aim to have at least five volleys of conversation back and forth.
  • Read books!  Nonfiction books that follow the children’s interests.