Children are naturally passionate learners. Hungry for new knowledge, they continually question others and are eager to find out even the smallest detail. But over time, children seem to become less interested in the world around them. The child who once questioned why the sky is blue now has little motivation to second-guess the presence of hailstorms in June.
So what happens to children’s curiosity as they get older? Although many things can be attributed to a decline in child curiosity, one that parents can control is stifling their children’s motivation to learn. The distractions of parenthood can sometimes lead to answering children’s questions too quickly or shutting them down completely.
On a trip to your local grocery, if your child picks up a pomegranate and asks what it is, do you quickly say the name of the fruit and move on or tell him to put it down? I once read that the difference between children with a high vocabulary and those without is their caretaker’s response to the questions they pose. So the parents who allow their children to not only touch the fruit but smell it and guess where it is grown and what’s inside, will help their children understand that questioning leads to learning.
Fanning the flame on your children’s questions makes them excited about learning. But don’t think you have to have all the answers. Here’s a way to take your children’s questions and turn them into what teachers call “inquiry-based learning projects.”
Listen for the questions your child generates. Does your 6-year-old look at the mole on your cheek and ask how you got it? Does your teenager question what it took for Barack Obama to become president? Once your child’s curiosity is piqued, guide him into generating more answerable questions that he can research. For example, the pomegranate question could turn into a series of questions, such as, “Why are pomegranates red?” “Where are pomegranates from?” and “What recipes use pomegranates?” Have your child write the questions on a sheet of paper. Then move on to the next step.
Next comes identifying the best approach to finding his answer. General information, such as facts about fruits and vegetables, can be found by doing a Google search. Look for sites that contain factual, up-to-date information. As a general rule, many researchers trust information from sites affiliated with government agencies or universities over sites like Wikipedia, where anyone can edit its content. If you don’t have access to the Internet, patronize your local library and peruse the children’s nonfiction section, or gather newspapers and magazines that contain information related to your subject. Regardless of where you find the information, make sure it is grade-appropriate so your child can easily comprehend the information presented.
Once you and your child have identified appropriate sources, let your child find the answer to his question(s). He or she may find different answers to the same question. Research multiple sources to determine the correct one, or talk about what he thinks is the best answer based on his prior knowledge. He may find one article that shows pomegranates are grown in some parts of India and another that shows they are grown in the western part of the United States. Other sources may reveal that they can be grown in many hot, dry climate areas.
Discuss what you learned
Your child can then create a product or presentation of what she learned. Have your child draw a big picture of a pomegranate with the facts learned about it listed underneath. Or pretend that he is a pomegranate and have you and other family members ask him questions about where he’s from and how to eat them. Other products or presentations could include a newspaper article, song, or PowerPoint that reports the information learned through inquiry-based learning. The possibilities are endless.
China Hill is a curriculum writer for KIPP Ascend Charter School on the West Side.