The Importance of Curiosity

Teaching should satisfy the curiosity of the children and stoke the curiosity of the teacher. – Sarah Riley

Last week I attended a professional development workshop that had us defining some of our values as teachers. I had done this activity a few years ago because I feel that it is important to know what you value in your life and in your classroom, because it defines what you do, how you act, and… well, it defines pretty much all aspects of your classroom. If you haven’t sat down and defined your own values, I recommend that you do so. It helps so much when it comes to planning, goal-setting, and other aspects of your teaching.

Anyway, because I had already done this activity it was easy for me to write down the three values that were required of us during this activity. Since I finished before most people, I wrote down little sentences to highlight why I find these values to be important. In case you were wondering, curiosity, independence, and exploration were the three values that I wrote down. And the quote above is what I wrote down under the value of curiosity.

I have found that curiosity is a driving force – maybe the driving force – of everything I do in the classroom. I plan around the things that the students show curiosity about, and I learn so much about those things because I have to find resources and plan activities to help them learn about those things. I find myself curious about the things that the children do, how they learn, how they interact with each other, where they need me to take the direction of their learning. There is so much to be curious about in the classroom, and so many ways to satisfy these curiosities.

Reflecting on this quote at this time, I think that I would change it a little bit: I think I would say “Learning should satisfy the curiosity of the student and the teacher, and stoke their curiosities in order that they can learn even more.” When you learn about something, it doesn’t satisfy that desire to learn. Usually when I learn something, it brings about even more questions about even more things that I want to learn about. This is what I mean about stoking that curiosity; it is satisfied about one thing, but it keeps going when it comes to something related or even something totally different.

I heard a great quote on a podcast today (which was quoted from a different podcast that I don’t think I’ve heard yet): the opposite of depression is curiosity. I’m not sure I completely agree with it, but it does make quite a bit of sense. When you are curious, you are striving to figure something out or learn something; you have a goal and a purpose. When you are depressed you don’t have any of those things. No goal, no purpose, no anything. When we are teaching, we should have a goal in mind, something that we are striving for. Interested in how to foster productive relationships in the classroom? Develop a curiosity for how children resolve conflicts, how they learn empathy, and how to teach these skills to them. This is the essence of curiosity in the classroom, and curiosity leads to learning.

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Building Positive Relationships: How To Escape Education’s Death Valley (Sir Ken Robinson)

Do I hit you over the head with Sir Ken Robinson? Well, I am not going to apologize for it, because the man is a wonderful speaker and is full of great ideas. The video I am presenting on the blog today is his presentation at the 2013 TEDTalk Education Conference, which is as phenomenal as all of his others. I included it under “Building Positive Relationships” because the ideas he presents have the ability to change and enhance the relationships between student and teacher, teacher and administrator, and administrator and legislator. I hope you enjoy the presentation.

 

Curiosity and Further Learning

I have been reading the book Socratic Circles by Matt Copeland, in preparation for workshops through Project: Preschool. I came across this quote, which made me think:

Unintentionally, we teach students at an early age that having questions suggests a lack of understanding, rather than suggesting that having questions reveals a curiosity for further learning. (Copeland, 50)

This quote makes me think about this attitude that we have: deep knowledge about a particular subject can only be achieved by specialists, and specialists are the only ones that can speak to or about a particular subject. Deep knowledge about a subject usually comes about by an intense curiosity to learn more about the subject, whether or not one is in school to receive that knowledge. If students are not taught to question what they hear or read, do not learn to seek information from other sources, or do not learn how to make connections between sources, they will not expand in their knowledge about anything.

As teachers, our job is not to condemn questions or stigmatize them, but to use them as a jumping off point to teach about how to dive into a topic and really explore it.

How did this quote make you feel? Post thoughts in the comments – I love to hear from readers!

Finding Ways to Extend Observations

During the past week I have discussed a lot about observations. One thing that I have found when talking to educators is that they are not quite sure what to do with their observations once they have made them. Here is a list of ways that I use observations:

1. Complete Developmental Assessments

During an observation, I am completely in tune with a child. I am following his actions, his language, and his social interactions. These aspects of observation can come in handy when completing developmental assessments, and it doesn’t require you to ask a child to try to perform a task out of the context of play or life. We have all heard of, seen, or experienced test anxiety. Asking a child to perform out of context can bring test anxiety to life, but in a classroom that uses observation as a tool, children can experience this anxiety less because we can see the development happening in and throughout the classroom.

2. Develop Learning Projects and Activities

This is where the creativity of the teacher can really shine through. By using the amazing amount of information that has been gathered through observation, teachers can sit down and plan extended learning projects and basic activities to expand children’s knowledge. There are many wonderful resources to help with this, as well. Pinterest is where I get a lot of ideas for the classroom, as well as different educational blogs and sites. The early childhood online community is a treasure trove of ideas, information, and inspiration. Many of the blogs I read are listed in the “What I’m Reading” section on the right.

3. Define an Effective Classroom Environment

The interests and ideas of the children are always changing. Therefore, the environment that they learn in should always be changing as well. I have never viewed classroom design as a static process for this reason.

There are many aspects of the classroom that can be affected by observing children. The first is the overall layout of the classroom. If the furniture arrangement allows for too much high-energy movement, it may be time for a change. Likewise, if an area of the classroom sees a lot of attention but is cluttered and cramped, it may be necessary to either expand the area or move it to a more accessible area of the classroom.

One of the most dynamic aspects of the classroom should be the materials that the children interact with. Providing new materials on a regular basis can allow the children to be continuously exploring their environment because it never grows old. I have read stories of teachers who found curious objects, trays, or items in thrift stores and added them to the classroom environment simply because they were curious about how the children would interact with it.

Maria Montessori maintained that children should be surrounded by materials that are aesthetically pleasing (Lillard, 2007). The reason for this is that children are drawn to them, as most people are to beautiful objects. Different textures, weights, and beautiful colors are calming to a child. Have you ever picked up a “worry stone” at a tourist gift shop? The smooth texture and features of the stone are supposed to have a calming effect to those who use them. One item that I have always loved to hold in my hand is a glass sphere. The smoothness of the sphere, along with the weight of the glass, never fails to trigger a calm in me. Usually I wonder how someone goes about making a glass sphere like that, or wonder about why it is so heavy. If a child’s environment can trigger these kinds of questions, true learning can begin.

Rediscovering the Child Within

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Sometimes I look around at the people that I work with and I think, “I really am just a big kid.” I enjoy doing things with the kids. Experiencing life with them is eye-opening, because it causes me to slow down and really think about aspects of life that I probably take for granted.

Have you ever seen a child when they are satisfying their curiosity? I have a boy in my class who is simply as “boy” as they come. He comes in the morning completely “on” and he wakes up from nap completely “on”. The other day I put together a fishing activity in which I put strings of yarn on magnetic wands and paper clips on paper fish. I gave the wands to the kids and they began to fish. But about fifteen minutes later, I looked at this child. He had developed a pulley by using the hand that was not pulling the string in place of the wheel that most pulleys are made of. I watched him pull the yarn back and forth through his finger. He was absolutely oblivious to the noise of the other children in the classroom, completely intent on the actions of his hands and the magnet. A little later he explored the effects of the magnet as a pendulum, but he did not stay with that exploration for very long.

Little moments like this define the direction of my classroom. Sometimes I worry that someone will say that my classroom is out of control, simply because children tend to use objects in ways other than their intended purpose when their patience with the intended purpose has lapsed. It is in these moments that children’s true capabilities can be seen.

As adults we are so intent on each tool we use or item we have having a specific purpose, with no room for exploration of other purposes. We are stuck on not breaking something or not messing anything up. I very easily could have told the boy that “we don’t use the magnet like that!” But I would have lost out on seeing his calm, deliberate actions as he explored his pulley, and he would have lost out on the experience of exploring the pulley for himself.

It makes me wonder, how many moments do we miss out on as adults because we simply don’t slow down? How many ideas do we miss out on because we take so much of what we think we know for granted? Do we stop to entertain ideas – no matter how crazy they may seem? Or are we too busy trying to be “normal”? Perhaps we need to search for the child inside us – the one who is curious about everything because everything is new and different and exciting. Maybe we need to pause for a moment like the boy did and discover just how many things we can do with an object, or try to do something a new way, just to see what it is like.

The point is, we need to rediscover that child within us. We need to remember what it feels like to be excited about the little things in life, and slow down enough to experience those little things. There is so much that we miss out on if we continue through life at breakneck speed.

Curiosity Leads to Creativity

A couple of years ago, I took part in an online month-long workshop that changed the direction of my teaching forever. In the workshop we were asked to define our five deepest values. My list was as follows:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Flexibility
  3. Enthusiasm
  4. Respect
  5. Knowledge

Passion had originally been on my list, but I realized that, when you are working to define your deepest values, you are working to define what you are passionate about. Am I passionate about passion? Does that even make any sense? What is that passion that drives me every morning, that makes me want to get up and go to work every day, and still leaves me happy at the end of the day, even when I am exhausted? The answer is: curiosity.

I am amazingly curious about how people learn and how children think. I am curious about how social interactions between people lead to different emotional responses between children or adults. And what I have found, to my amazement and delight, is that my curiosity has fueled me to become more creative, not just in my classroom, but in my business as well. I have been researching a way to do teacher education workshops unlike any other workshop that I have ever been to. I have brainstormed new ideas and methods, and have poured countless hours of creativity into this blog. On the flip side, I have found that I don’t have patience for many things that have little or nothing to do with curiosity or creativity. I have written several workshops for Project: Preschool, but the ones that I am the most excited about have to do with creativity. I recently tried to focus on a new topic/direction for Uplifting Freedom for July, but found myself so unmotivated to write about it that I realized that I needed to keep my primary focus on creativity.

Luckily, creativity is a complex topic, and there are many different elements of a classroom and of life that affect creativity. This brings many different topics to write about and ways to think about it.

Today my mind keeps coming back to the fact that curiosity almost inevitably leads to creativity. Being curious about “how” will motivate one to come up with creative and productive methods of doing something. Being curious about “why” will lead one to explore new reasons for doing something, or the reasoning behind doing it differently. Being curious about “what” will lead one to discover new uses for something. Curiosity plays a crucial part in creativity, and it is by asking questions and seeking answers that we find our true creative mind.

Of course, knowing what our passions are is a big step in finding our true creative mind, as well. I don’t think I would ever have found mine if I hadn’t sat down and thought about what I was truly passionate about. It was through this exercise that I have been able to define what it is that I am curious about, and how to go about satisfying that curiosity. Through the satisfying of my curiosity, I have come up with new classroom methods, new workshop ideas, and new ways of doing old things. It has been a truly satisfying experience.

Building Positive Relationships: Finding Their Element

Ken Robinson’s book Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creativewas extremely thought-provoking for me. In an age whre most people state that creativity peaks at age 7 (a topic that we will definitely visit at a later date), Robinson states that creativity can be very much alive and well in the adult, provided they find their passion – that element that allows them to experience the joy of working, creating, and discovering. Most people seem to go through life in a haze of dislike for their work but resigned to doing it anyway – and since this seems to be the norm in society, no one questions it. It seems to be the exception rather than the rule that one find fulfillment and happiness through their work.

I find that one of my jobs as a teacher is to provide different avenues for children to express their creativity. It is almost like a treasure hunt, because each child is different and each child likes to express their creativity differently. One may love to color and one may love to paint. One may love to play with sand and one may love to build with blocks. One may love to get messy and one may not like mess so much.

The key to the treasure hunt is to provide as many different experiences as possible, observe during those experiences, and brainstorm new experiences off of those observations. By observing children’s reactions to different experiences, we can help them find avenues for their creativity that they enjoy. If we let others in the child’s life know about the avenues the child seems to enjoy, they can expand and extend the experience for the child. And through their experimentation and expansion, new avenues to express creativity may emerge.

So what does this have to do with building positive relationships? Well, for starters, everyone seems to appreciate being supported in an area of their lives that they enjoy. This is no different in children. In a time when children are told “no” seemingly all the time, it is up to us, the advocates for children, to be the ones to tell them “yes”. There is a woman whose page I follow on Facebook who posts all the time about telling her children “yes”. And the way she phrases it, you can tell that the things she says “yes” to are things that the children have either asked to do, or are things that may have gotten a resounding “no” if not for a pause in which one asks the question, “Well, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do this?” Her children will most likely find their element quicker because they have been allowed to experience and experiment throughout their childhood. And they are also experiencing the respect from their parents that, even though they are kids, they are capable to learn  how to maneuver their way through life. They are also capable to learn from their parents about aspects of life through modeling.

Children are sill learning about their world. In order to gain a full understanding about the way the world works, children should be allowed to experience their world as much as possible. We have all had something in our life that we didn’t fully understand. Usually curiosity will drive us until we gain understanding. But if we feel that our curiosity is being stifled, we will lose our curiosity, and may lose interest in something that may potentially be our element. The same is true of children. One of the worst things we can do to a child is to stifle their inborn curiosity by not letting them experience and experiment with life.