Every child is born curious. How can they help it? They’re like little aliens entering a new planet in which everything is foreign. They only have two things working in their favor – they’re cute and they’re insatiably, indubitably curious. Children ask about everything, notice everything, remember everything (at least the things parents aren’t trying to teach them), and want a tactile experience of everything. In every instance and with every item a child wants to engage all five senses.
This causes a certain collection of problems, to be sure – ill-timed observations about that woman’s attire and repeated reminders that “we don’t put dog food in our mouths” to name a couple examples. These are all part of a parent’s experience of playing bumper on the bowling lane of life.
The greater problems arise later on, usually right around middle school, because children leave behind both of their working advantages. Their curiosity begins to fade and they’re definitely not cute any more. The latter problem resolves itself over a few years of pimples and gawkiness. The former problem persists, however. What was lively, vibrant curiosity calcifies into apathetic boredom and coolness.
Any parent should be dismayed by this, assuming we are not also calcified to the point of not noticing. The loss of curiosity is the loss of vibrancy and opportunity and potential and life. Yes people can live without it, but they cannot live without it. Curiosity is that thing which fuels the best relationships with God and people, drives every sort of creativity, and opens our eyes to the world around us for pleasure and for mission. To lose this driving force is to have an inertial existence marked by redundancy (rebranded as “predictability” to make it sound safe) and stretching only so far as their non-existent imagination can envision, which is to say as far as bed time.
That is no way to live, and we would not wish it on our children. But lest we do something on their behalf we may be dooming them to it. What follows are my best pieces of advice for raising curious children, or rather curious adults. (NOTE: Please don’t read this like a typical parenting book or blog in which the author prescribes several steps and implies, or declares, that following them will fix all that ails your child. Read as an ingredient list and the task is yours, chef, to create the right recipe for your child.)
1) Answer Questions
No matter the repetition and the oddity, answer your child’s questions. Yes, teach them the appropriate time and volume to ask. But answer. If you don’t know, admit it then help them find the answer. By answering or seeking answers you feed their minds. You show them that questions are good and asking leads somewhere. You give them permission to be curious, and a child with permission will seek to exercise it in every possible manner.
2) Ask Questions
Children are curious but ignorant. Your well-placed questions train them and direct them. It gets them thinking toward something and hints at the path to get there. Most importantly it models curiosity and gives them future permission to be an asker and seeker when they reach adulthood.
3) Invite Them In
You have hobbies; include your children. Show them how power tools work or your electric guitar or the KitchenAid mixer. Read them books (so many books) and take them fishing and to a ball game. If you enjoy a thing let them enjoy it with you and teach them about it. Two great things happen when we do this: we get time with our children and they build a storehouse of experiences and memories to draw on.
4) Take Them Out
No, not like a hit man, no matter how awful they are between arriving home from school and eating dinner. I mean take them out to places. Go hiking and to a ball game. Visit museums and cities. See a play and a movie and a concert. Feed them things that aren’t on the kids menu and that don’t have names in English. Go on missions trips. Visit people’s homes. Show them the myriad expressions of creative wonder God has sown in His world.
5) Notice and Explain
Kids notice plenty on their own, but they’re oblivious too. They miss the mountain for the pebble. Noticing is a muscle that needs to be exercised else it atrophies. So train your children’s noticing muscle to observe the world around them and soak things in. Exemplify noticing the odd and beautiful and terrible and sublime. You need the practice and they do to. Then explain what you notice, but keep it short. Nobody likes a lecture (which is why, in part, school is so bad for curiosity).
6) Have Wonder
When you notice be wowed. Share those moments with your kids. When you see a busker slaying on the guitar stop to watch, be amazed, and give your child a dollar to put in the case. When you’re driving home from soccer practice and the sun is setting revel in the oranges and pinks and golds with them. They need to know that the world is wonderful and will still be when they grow up too.
7) Reinforce Creativity
Don’t force it, but bolster and encourage it. Make time and space for it and supply their every need. Your child needs no more apps, but they could use an Amazon Pantry box, some scissors, and roll of packing tape. They could use a conversion of some of those Netflix hours to drawing/writing/dancing/singing/acting/composing/imagining/make believing hours. And then they could use your praise for their creativity and their boldness in it. Extol their effort and imagination and risk-taking. Don’t call them Picasso or Shakespeare if they’re not – but show them you’re proud of them. You want a child who will take bold, creative, imaginative risks in their work and life, right? This is where that begins.
For more thoughts/explorations/ponderings/pontifications on curiosity check out my book The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life.