Cultivating Curiosity

“When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do.” - Walt Disney 

“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” - Albert Einstein

“Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous mind.” - Samuel
Johnson

Children are naturally curious, but studies show that over time rather than becoming more
curious as they get older, they become less and less curious. One of the reasons for this is
because of how we teach our children in schools. In traditional schools function, there isn’t
much room for curiosity in the classroom. Students are taught what is on the curriculum, which
is to prepare them for a test. This means teachers usually don’t spend time delving into extra
information that might be interesting or spark curiosity. There isn’t time allotted for students to
explore the material deeper.

Is curiosity a good thing? We’ve all heard the phrase “curiosity killed the cat.” Some people
believe that too much curiosity can lead students to begin questioning everything, including
authority. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it usually is not well received by teachers
and principals. However, what most people don’t know are the positive effects of curiosity. The
primary benefit is joy and pleasure when you discover something new, which in itself is enough.
However, this pleasure releases a chemical in the brain called dopamine. Dopamine has positive
effects on focus and memory. While the brain has high levels of dopamine, you are more likely
to stay focused and commit information to long-term memory. This means that if you are
curious about what you are learning, you are more likely to be paying close attention and you’ll
remember the information for longer, both of which are extremely beneficial in the classroom.

Another benefit is that curiosity creates a learning environment where motivation comes from
within the students. Rather than using the carrot or the stick method of teaching where students
are rewarded or punished, teachers who cultivate curiosity in the classroom have students who
are engaged and feel good doing so. Students also are more likely to find friends in class who
have shared, productive interests. This helps students to continue learning outside the classroom
and develop positive hobbies.

We also live in a world where there are new ideas and technology developing constantly. Most
of these ideas happened because people were willing to ask questions like “Why doesn’t this
exist yet?” and “How could I design this?” These simple, curious questions lead to inventions
that are life-changing. If we want our students to be the leaders of tomorrow, we need to keep
them curious, rather than beating the curiosity out of them in the school system.

So how do you cultivate curiosity? One of the most important things for creating an
environment that promotes curiosity is establishing a classroom without fear or anxiety. If
students are worried or afraid about being shot down or made fun of, they are much less likely to
explore or ask questions. Part of curiosity is being willing to try new things, even if they are out
of your comfort zone. If students are worried their peers will make fun of them or that the
teacher will chastise them for getting the “wrong” answer, they aren’t going to risk it. To avoid
this type of classroom environment, encourage students to focus on the experience and not the
outcome. Explain that there is no “wrong” or “right” answer and the goal of a curiosity-based
activity is to explore and try something new. Although it might take some time for students to
become comfortable enough to try, once students understand that it is a safe environment they
won’t be afraid to be curious.

Promoting exploration and experimentation also encourages curiosity. If students are told there
is not one right answer and are given the opportunity to explore in class, they usually walk away
excited about the material. This is the famous egg drop experiment where students have to
create protective containers for eggs and then drop them off the roof. Students love experiments
like this because failure is acceptable (what are the chances the egg isn’t going to crack?) and it
gives them the opportunity to explore and experiment. Although it might take a little creativity
on the part of the teacher, it is possible to create explorative activities for any topic that allow
students to be hands-on and curious about what they are learning. These types of activities get
students excited to participate in class and, as mentioned before, actually help them learn the
material better.

In order to cultivate curiosity, there also needs to be time for students to ask questions, be
creative, and explore their personal interests. We are so used to the one “right” way to do things
and even shut kids down when they try to deviate from the planned task. These deviations are
signs of curiosity and students should be given the ability to explore them. Allow time each day
for students to ask questions about the material. Give them the opportunity to be creative and
bring their own interests into the classroom. Open-ended activities or assignments allow students
to tie in whatever they might be interested in outside of school to what they are learning. You
might be surprised at how unique and interesting some of these “deviations” are. You can even
push students to be more creative by having them do presentations with a prop that can’t be a
poster or a PowerPoint. If you give them the opportunity, your students will pleasantly surprise
you.

Studies suggest that as we become curious, our brain’s chemistry changes and in turn, helps us to
retain information. This process in turn helps to increases in our learning.

Our students are curious by nature. Instead of trying to erase this curiosity, we should try to tap
into it and create classrooms that cultivate it. Students are more curious in classrooms and with
teachers that allow and encourage thinking outside the box and exploring. This curiosity leads to
high levels of engagement, interest, and even allows students to understand and remember the
material better. It’s easy to teach students straight from the textbook and avoid deviations from
the curriculum. However, it’s more rewarding to teach students that want to be in the classroom
and are excited about learning. A little bit of extra work preparing activities goes a long way and
both teachers and students will feel better about the outcome.