Young children ask up to 300 questions a day. And whilst this curiosity is exhausting for parents, it is both normal and can be an early indicator of intelligence. Our Gifted and Talented writer explains…
Curiosity is a thirst for knowledge. From the beginning of time, humans have shared an inherent need to explore; to inquire; to investigate the unknown. To question, to understand and to know are fundamental needs. Children satisfy their curiosity, initially by observing and interacting with their environment. From infancy, children learn through exploring their world physically and later, when language develops, by questioning. Many young children go through a stage of repeatedly asking “Why?” Frequently a child’s response to the answer provided is to repeat the question “Why?” This repeated questioning focuses attention, engages both individuals and extends interaction.
A child’s early curiosity forms the basis for learning. Curiosity prompts questions and when a satisfying response is received, the young child is encouraged to question and explore further. Intelligent, verbally adept children quickly progress to asking more complex questions, often exhausting the knowledge, energy and patience of the adult who is expected to provide an answer to every question.
Why Should Children Ask ‘Why?’
Curiosity is nurtured when questions prompt children to think, explore, locate, learn, remember and retrieve information. The process of learning is stimulated by curiosity, so this trait must be cultivated. As children search for understanding, new knowledge is acquired; this builds upon and links to existing knowledge, establishes and strengthens neural pathways, shaping the brain and intellectual capacity. Early development of reading enables the curious child to investigate independently, voraciously learning in the process. Acquiring an understanding of any topic starts with curiosity, then combined with the effort required to explore and investigate the topic.
Inquisitiveness drives creativity, innovation and invention. Albert Einstein understood the importance of curiosity when he said “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.” Any form of creativity, inventiveness and research is based upon curiosity.
Asking questions is not an indication of a lack of ability, but rather demonstrates curiosity and the love of learning. More complex, thoughtful questioning suggests higher intelligence. This curiosity or need to learn must not be ignored. When children stop posing questions, curiosity is stifled and learning is impeded. Curiosity stimulates learning and develops intelligence. The learning process utilises, maintains and satisfies students’ natural curiosity, creating a powerful reinforcement for further curiosity and explorations.
What the Research Says:
The drive to understand curiosity prompted Ian Leslie to explore the role of curiosity in learning. Leslie shares knowledge of this topic in his book, Curious: The desire to know and why your future depends on it, explaining how curiosity drives learning and shapes intellect.
A team of researchers, led by Adrian Raine from Southern California University, demonstrated that highly curious, novelty-seeking toddlers developed higher levels of intelligence, had higher reading and academic abilities by the age of eleven than other children who had been less curious when younger. Children with higher levels of curiosity explore their physical surroundings, are sociable, interact more with other children and adults, thus creating for themselves an enriched and stimulating environment that enhances cognitive development.
Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson, through extensive reading and research at the University of Pennsylvania, developed a list of twenty-four strengths, widely recognised throughout history and across cultures. Curiosity was identified as one of the strengths highly correlated with well-being and happiness. My recent research, exploring gifted children’s concepts of happiness and the contexts within which they experience happiness, indicates the love of learning, followed by curiosity, are the top two strengths associated with gifted children.
The Benefits of Being Curious
Curious children are interested in and open to novel experiences. They tend to be willing to investigate the unknown and are receptive to new information. With heightened attention and focus, curious children process information at a deeper level and memory function is enhanced. Tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity are linked to curiosity, suggesting this trait could be associated with lower levels of anxiety and greater resilience.
Children who are curious and ask thoughtful, complex questions are intellectually engaged and proactive in their learning. Through curiosity, children gain knowledge, develop understanding, increase intelligence and improve academic outcomes. Curious children become active, lifelong learners, a characteristic that has been highly correlated with adult success. Parents, who exhibit their own curiosity through continuous learning, formal or informal study, developing hobbies, learning new skills and exploring fresh fields, provide a powerful model of the importance of lifelong learning. Parents and teachers who encourage children to be curious, to ask challenging questions, investigate a topic further or explore the unknown will be helping to increase a child’s intelligence while promoting active, successful learners.
Michele Juratowitch is Director of Clearing Skies and was awarded a Churchill Fellowship. She provides counselling for gifted children and their parents. Michele provides advocacy and consultancy in schools; professional development for teachers and is co-author of Make a Twist: Curriculum differentiation for gifted students. Register for Guiding Gifted Children: A seminar for parents (Sunday, 18th October) at: https://www.trybooking.com/
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This article was published in Issue 12 of our print magazine, October/November 2015.