July 16, 2020 6:54:50 pm
By Dr Cyndi Burnett and Ismet Mamnoon
Do dolphins like daal? Probably not, but it’s the sort of question that children often ask. When they do this, they are demonstrating curiosity and imagination: the cornerstones of creativity. How you react to their unusual and seemingly often nonsensical questions can greatly impact your children’s creative growth.
Does that mean you should entertain any question they ask? Not necessarily. You can do better than that. How might you foster genuine curiosity and a desire to learn? How might you reawaken your own curiosity and creativity?
Here are some simple tips that will help you cultivate your family’s natural curiosity and creativity.
1. Curiosity is a skill
Embrace the idea that curiosity is not just a skill that you need to nurture in your children. It’s really a skill that everyone can benefit from. Try making a commitment to working on developing your curiosity quotient as a family.
2. Model what it means to be curious
Do you know how your phone recognises a barcode? Or where the “silly mid-off” position got its name? Have you ever taken a padlock to pieces just to see how a lock works? Children wonder about these things all the time, but they may not be asking the questions out loud. By displaying your curiosity to your children, you are encouraging them to wonder along with you. Try wondering out loud by asking interesting and curious questions about the world around you. Ask your children if they can help answer those questions.
3. Encourage wonder
Encourage your family members to keep an “I wonder…” list. It could be in a notebook, on sticky notes in the kitchen, or a list on their phones. Use an approach that makes it easy to capture new questions. Make sure your family knows that it is okay to have a list of interesting questions without knowing how to answer them. This helps them develop a habit of “incubation”. Pondering questions over a long period of time can lead to surprising answers. After all, Einstein didn’t work out the answer to his question about what it would be like to travel on a beam of light until many years after it occurred to him. Try creating a shared family list of interesting “wonders” and spend time with them to discover the answers.
4. Help them find answers
When someone poses a question, do your very best not to come up with an immediate answer. You may already know the best way to fly a kite or find the hole in the bicycle tire, but if you leave space for others to explore the question, they may come up with a more creative approach. Encouraging questions without offering immediate answers is an amazingly simple but powerful way to boost your children’s curiosity. Try responding to your child’s question with a question of your own: “How might you find the answer to that question?”
5. Ask ‘why not?’
Use observations and information as a launchpad for further questions. For instance, the Indian broad gauge track width is indeed 1,676mm, but why was it set to that width, and what if it weren’t? Might there be advantages to trains running on incredibly narrow gauges? What if trains were like unicycles? Try following the curiosity thread as far as you can. It is likely that you’ll end up in unexplored territory, perhaps even challenging the laws of science, which then allows you to get curious about “why not?”
6. Build a judgment-free space to express curiosity
You may find that as you encourage curiosity, your common sense cuts in, and you might wonder if you have wandered into the realm of “crazy”. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of judgment instead of being open to new possibilities, especially if there’s a straightforward answer you could provide. Most new ideas will have an element of “crazy” about them, probably because they haven’t been thought through properly, or perhaps because they contain some original thoughts. Try creating a safe space for wondering by inviting your family to “play with ideas.” Encourage each other to stay open to new ideas as they are shared. You could set aside a time to return to these ideas later in order to evaluate them from a more practical perspective.
As parents, we work hard to broaden our children’s range of experiences, and we also want them to focus on the critical elements of their education. In pursuing these objectives, we can sometimes overlook the activities that evoke true passion in their lives. Creating opportunities for your children to spend at least some of their time exploring the world led by their curiosity provides insight into their passions and can pay huge dividends in developing their creative skills and confidence.
Curiosity is the key to opening our minds and broadening our perspectives. It is the means by which we feed our imagination and our creative spirit. As Ellen Parr said, “The cure for boredom is curiosity, there is no cure for curiosity.” So how might you become incurably curious?
(Cyndi Burnett and Ismet Mamnoon are both creativity and education specialists from Buffalo, NY. Cyndi is the director of an online platform called creativityandeducation.com, and Ismet is the Founder of Beyonder. Dr Burnett also offers a free online course on igniting creativity that is available on Coursera.)
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