As long as kids stay curious, they are motivated to learn, but when their curiosity dies, their learning ability suffers. Many experts believe curiosity may be the most important factor for children's brain development and their ability to tackle academic tasks. Just as my friends the MacKenzies found, when their son's curiosity was stimulated, it boosted his motivation to learn.
Like curiosity, thinking is perhaps one of the most important subjects of all, and it begins at home. Use opportunities in real, everyday living to give your kids problem-solving practice. Let them help figure out how far apart to space vegetable and flower seedlings in the garden. Before a trip, let them help plan and budget the vacation money and navigate using maps while en route to your destination. Turn a walk to the park into a nature investigation with an inexpensive magnifying glass, a sack for interesting rocks or leaves, and a critter jar made out of a plastic container with a mesh lid to let in air.
Ask curious questions when you go to the zoo together like "Why do you think this animal has long legs? Is this animal a meat eater or a grass eater?" Give them toothpicks and say, "What are all the ways we can use a toothpick?" Brainstorm and see who can figure out how to use something that would normally be thrown away. "What are all the ways we can use a toothpick?" Brainstorm and see who can figure out how to use something that would normally be thrown away. "What can we do with a Styrofoam tray the chicken was in?" (After washing, of course!) And there are many other creative ideas kids can think of on their own.
And most of all, take your kids' questions seriously — even though little ones ask a lot of questions that can seem endless. (Remember, this curiosity, these questions, are a key to his desire to learn, so avoid putting out the fire!)
At the same time, don't feel like you have to give all the answers; it's valuable to help your child think through the question and ask, "What do you think about that?" or "That's a really great question," and then guide him through applying facts he's already learned or coming up with a theory of his own. If you're too busy to talk about it at the time or don't know the answer, write your child's questions on an index card and next time you're at the library, have him take it to the librarian to help discover the answer, or search together on the Internet later.
When kids are in junior high and high school, critical-thinking skills are developing, so it's vital to keep an open dialogue with them about issues and situations they face. When they make a statement that contrasts with your values, avoid overreacting. Instead, guide them through the thought processes, and encourage them to consider what determines right and wrong and to search for what God says about that issue in the Bible. But let your children explain their views and not always be put down for their ideas.
Also, find out what the school is doing to inspire kids' curiosity. If your discoveries prove disappointing, band with other parents to brainstorm for creative ideas and buy hands-on science equipment (lots of which is inexpensive). Meet with teachers and the principal to see how parents can partner to improve the school environment and build students' sense of wonder, curiosity, and motivation for learning.
Adapted from Handbook on Choosing Your Child's Education, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2007, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.