Curiosity in Children

Contributor Dr. Elise Herman

There are characteristics we hope to see in our kids such as kindness, intelligence, and perseverance. We may not put ‘curiosity’ high on this list, but in fact it is crucial to a child’s success in learning and school—and maybe, even in life.

Research has shown that those who are curious tend to be happier, less anxious, and have a greater sense of well-being. In children, studies connect curiosity to higher academic performance, and in adults it is tied to greater achievement at work.  When people are highly curious about a subject, they are more engaged with it and more likely to remember what they have learned. General memory is also improved for information unrelated to the original area of interest. It seems curiosity primes the brain to absorb and retain new information better.

Being curious has been shown to improve one’s patience. Those who are very curious seem willing to do the work themselves to figure something out as opposed to needing an answer immediately. Curiosity can lead to increased creativity, more original ideas, and a willingness to ‘think outside the box’. It also translates into greater empathy and stronger interpersonal relationships.

So despite the sometimes endless “why?” questions from our kids that can be a bit much, curiosity is a very good thing. There are lots of ways we can encourage this important trait:

  • Express curiosity and wonder yourself, e.g., “I wonder why the moon looks so big tonight?”  Have a back-and-forth discussion about possible explanations. Together with your child find resources to get answers (and not just online) such as books, the library, and knowledgeable individuals.
  • Ask your child questions about things from the everyday to the more fantastical and encourage them to go deeper with their theories and ideas.
  • When your child asks you questions, avoid the “just because” response and research together if you don’t know the answer.  You do not need to know everything, and it is valuable to show your child that you are still learning, too.
  • Encourage your kids to be aware and mindful, to be thinking about what they experience, and to use their full senses to engage completely.
  • Limit “screens” including TV, smartphones, and social media which generally are passive entertainment, though quality programing such as nature shows can encourage curiosity. Watch educational programs (on PBS and National Geographic for example) together so you can have discussions about the content.
  • Explore new things such as ethnic food, museums, and new cultures either through travel or online resources. This promotes not just curiosity but an openness to people different than us.
  • Encourage books about subjects that inspire curiosity such as history-making individuals, exploration, and science fiction.
  • Help your child to follow their interests and learn more about what they are naturally intrigued by.
  • Embrace outdoor activities, especially in nature such as walking in a park, hiking, birdwatching, and camping. These immerse us in the natural world and foster curiosity and wonder.

And enjoy being a bit of a kid yourself as you marvel and explore the world we live in with your child!

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Dr. Elise Herman

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Dr. Herman is passionate about community health outreach, school programs, and child/family health and wellness. She has more than 31 years of experience as a pediatrician in Ellensburg, Washington, the last 3 with KVH Pediatrics. In 2022 Dr. Herman retired from practice and continues to contribute blog posts and remain a visible advocate for kids in the community.