Updated: Aug 16, 2020
Di Harvey explores the idea of fostering curiosity in our young people We all remember staring out of the window at some point at school during lesson. Maybe, like me, it was watching the gardener cut the expansive lush lawns (we weren’t allowed to step on) while inhaling the intoxicating smell of fresh cut grass through the window. Or maybe you drifted off and emerged yourself in a light - headed moment on the river (visible from our school from form room 5V) or followed the trail of a stray rain drop as it made its way down the classroom window.
As a younger pupil, you may be able to pinpoint the moment you witnessed a freak storm with driving rain interrupting a lesson or wind thrashing objects across the lawn. After a whirl of excitement we were probably told to ‘simmer down’ or shut up and get on, chastised by the teacher and dragged back into focus on the task in hand. It’s no surprise that against a backdrop of continuous targets, questions about the weather, storms or distractions have no place. As a secondary and adult tutor, I experience first hand how the system is still attempting to crush curiosity, nipping it in the bud to meet deadlines imposed. Recent American research explored in the Guardian suggests that we should be encouraging curiosity and questions rather than squashing it because children perform better. Researchers from the University of Michigan CS Mott Children’s Hospital and the Center for Human Growth and Development investigated curiosity in 6,200 children (highlighted in the book How to Succeed at School. What Every Parent Should Know by Wendy Berliner and Judith Judd). The research studied younger children and they found that the most curious children performed best. In addition, it showed disadvantaged children had the strongest connection between curiosity and performance. Researchers have found children at one nursery aged 14 months to five years ask an average of 107 questions an hour! The article cites lead researcher, Dr Prachi Shah, a developmental and behavioural paediatrician at Mott and an assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan, who says: “Promoting curiosity in children, especially those from environments of economic disadvantage, may be an important, under-recognised way to address the achievement gap.” Interestingly research from Susan Engel, author of The Hungry Mind finds questioning in children drops once kids start school. She found children in an elementary school asked between two and five questions in two hours, adding: “Often educational bureaucracies have shunted curiosity to the side.” Despite these findings being focused on kindergarten aged children there is much to be learned about the impact of imposed targets and deadlines in teaching older students. Fostering a curiosity of the mind in my own opinion, is one of our main jobs and needs to be in a par with developing resilience in young people as well as young children. Whether in the lively environment of a college campus or school or one-to-one with a young person, I believe making time for questions is achievable. Take a breath, commit a moment for questions, it could be the making of a curious mind. Thanks to The Guardian, Wendy Berliner & Judith Judd authors of How to Succeed at School. What Every Parent Should Know, Susan Engel, author of The Hungry Mind.