GFM JUNE 2015
Victoria Ryan O’Toole, creator of Molly Moccasins, explains why curiosity is one of the most important skills parents can teach their kids in today’s world.
If you’re a parent, you know that babies are born with limitless curiosity. Just think about all of the things your little ones touch, grab, climb on, stare at, and put in their mouths. But for many kids, as they grow their curiosity is dulled. Why is that?
“Because we all live in a culture that depends on TVs, computers, smartphones, books, magazines, and other people to keep us constantly occupied and entertained,” says Victoria Ryan O’Toole, creator of the Molly Moccasins story, game, and activity book series for children.
Curiosity, says O’Toole, is the antidote to this plugged-in, entertainment-dependent lifestyle because it encourages and allows individuals to be intellectually self-sufficient. O’Toole shares compelling reasons why curiosity is such a valuable skill:
•Skills like curiosity and creativity are what give academic knowledge its power and usefulness in the real world.
•While you might sometimes fear that you’ll explode if your child asks you “Why?” one more time, those questions are a sign of an active mind that’s analyzing the world.
•If a child’s natural curiosity isn’t able to redirect their interest, boredom will strike.
•Ultimately the goal of most parents is to raise self-reliant children. “Curiosity is an essential tool in enabling children to solve their own problems,” states O’Toole.
•It inspires persistence. You’ve heard the term “burning curiosity” before. It refers to a too-strong-to-be-dismissed impulse to know why, how, what, etc. “Curiosity will also foster resilience, which is an important component of persistence,” O’Toole says.
•As a rule, curious people are very aware of how much they don’t know. Because they’re always asking questions and seeking answers, they have a more fully developed view of the world and how it works, which makes them less likely to be self-absorbed.
•It sets kids up for long-term success. Throughout history, it’s always the people who ask “Why?” or “How can I make this better?” or “What is the solution to this problem?” who make the biggest impacts on our world. (Think about individuals ranging from Leonardo da Vinci to Marie Curie to Steve Jobs.) On a smaller, but no less valuable scale, those who ask questions and refuse to accept the status quo transform companies, lead communities, live adventurous lives, and are most fulfilled personally.
•”The best news of all for parents is that you don’t have to create curiosity from scratch,” O’Toole concludes. “Remember, it’s something your children were born with. Your job is to learn how to foster and encourage your children’s natural impulses to ask questions and learn new things.” Here are some tips:
•Take advantage of your kids’ “monkey see, monkey do” tendencies to increase their curiosity. Ask questions: “Why was there hail in that thunderstorm?” “What makes the dog get so excited after a bath?” Then, together with your children, try to find the answers.
•Give your child answers or explanations, and try to engage him in discussion afterward.
• If your child shows an interest in something like African animals, try to squelch the urge to say, “Not now, Lauren. You can read your African animals book later.” Too many rebuffs will teach your child that other things are more important than pursuing topics they’re curious about.
•Give your kids the ability to pursue the things they’re curious about on their own. When it’s age appropriate, teach them how to use Internet searches (perhaps with parental controls in place) and libraries. Try to help them build a good home library, too. You might also want to help your kids build a portable “curiosity toolkit” for when they’re on the go. Fill a backpack with paper, colored pencils, a pocket dictionary, and whatever else you and your kids can think of. You’ll be ready for any adventure that comes your way.
•Provide a stimulating environment. Keep in mind that kids are interested by pictures, new objects, new experiences, etc. Visual, aural, and other sensory stimulations are especially important and powerful when your children are very young. For instance, you might want to change one or two things around your house each week, and ask your kids to figure out what is different.
•Let your child engage in open-ended play. Don’t always tell her how to do something (e.g., “Color only in this direction.”). Often, you’ll be pleasantly surprised—or even amazed—by the results. It’s also a good idea to avoid labeling what your child does. Instead, allow her to explain it to you.
•Parents often want to swoop in and save the day. But making mistakes, then figuring out how to get up and move forward again, is an important part of staying curious and resilient. As long as your child isn’t in danger, try to avoid stepping in. Offer guidance and encouragement, not solutions. And above all, teach your kids that mistakes aren’t failures; they’re opportunities to learn and improve.
•Don’t label activities or situations as “boring,” because you don’t want your child to think that boredom is okay.
•Teach your child how to observe. Curious kids are able to look at the world around them and easily notice things that are interesting, mysterious, exciting, etc. That’s why they’re never bored! Observation and adventure often starts with a simple, “I wonder…” To get your kids into the habit of noticing both the big picture and the small details so that curiosity can take root, point out interesting things you see yourself.
•Talk to your child about how curiosity “works.” Get into the habit of talking to your kids about how curiosity impacts our world in areas ranging from government to education to technology to medicine and much, much more. Explain how many “staples” of our daily lives, like light bulbs, cars, computers, etc., were born because of someone’s curiosity. You might find it helpful to check out library books or internet info on inventors. Together, discuss how these curious innovators went through the process of asking, imagining, planning, designing, and creating to end at a finished product. Soon, your son or daughter might have a whole new set of real-world role models.
For more information, please visit mollymoccasins.com.