Helping students become capable and confident beyond the parameters of the classroom is central to our mission. To help with this mission, we often organize student development into ‘macro-skills’, delineated by aspects of our executive function curriculum or other skills core to student success. These macro-skills include organization, time management, study skills, and impression management but also general traits like creativity, confidence, and curiosity. Curiosity is the subject of this blog post. For other macro-skill posts, please check out our blog page.
Curiosity is the difference between a student taking a vested interest in their studies and settling for the bare minimum of the academic journey, only doing homework when absolutely necessary. It’s the difference between a student being excited about a class and going through the motions with a barely passing grade. It’s the difference between doing a mindless activity with their free time (playing video games, surfing the internet, scrolling) all day and trying something new and difficult.
We all have it, this trait of asking questions. Being curious is something we do as soon as we are able to talk. The human mind has a great, near-infinite desire to *know*, buried though it might be. But something happens between toddlerhood and growing up, when those questions are replaced with a shrug of the shoulders and a disinterested groan. Perhaps it’s the slowly increasing weight of expectations and responsibilities that dim the light of curiosity. Perhaps it’s the tendency some authority figures have of shutting down questions to avoid distracting or disrupting others.
Regardless of what makes us less curious as we age, most of us are conscious of the fact that curiosity bubbles out of us when we are young, and unless we cultivate it and nurture it, the desire to know and learn diminishes. We’re left with apathetic young minds who don’t “see the point” of learning something unless they’re going to use it in their career or immediate life.
Yes, that’s a dark sentiment. However, it’s not false, and that fact should scare you. It means that young people aren’t learning how to learn – how to teach themselves; reason through arguments, rhetoric, or stick with a subject when it gets tough. Again, as I mentioned above, kids (and adults) need that spice of curiosity to motivate them to care about keeping their minds sharp and pursue their studies because it is good to learn and to know.
How can we create an environment to help students become and remain curious?
Surround the Students with Curious Minds
Ensure students are surrounded by passionate, curious people. Friends, family, peers, tutors and teachers are all huge influences on a student’s desire to learn. We believe in a zone-defense when it comes to student support; that’s why our flagship executive function and academic coaching program works so well. Passionate peers, tutors, and teachers make all the difference between a mind-numbing school experience and a fantastic one. Parents can get in on the action, too. Talk about your own interests and hobbies at the dinner table. Show interest in what your child is learning not purely in an inquisitorial sense but also as a student. Your kids learn some amazing things at school every day. Ask them about what they learned and show interest in learning it. And if your student needs a little extra boost, finding a tutor who has a “thing” that they love (whether it’s calculus, the trombone or hiking) might be just the right amount of influence for your student.
Create the Space for Students to Be Creative
Give your student opportunities to flex their curious and creative muscles. Planning outings to a variety of destinations like museums, the zoo, the symphony, and the great outdoors are fantastic opportunities to pique kids’ interest. Search for novelty but also create the space for your child to find it independently. If your child shows interest in something you know nothing about (within reason), give them the tools they need to explore those interests. When you need to play a more supportive role, help your child find programs and information that aren’t too watered down to market towards children and teens. Desirable difficulty is an important component to cultivating and retaining curiosity long after the child-like wonder wears off.
Don’t Overlook the Importance of Boredom
Let them be bored. Don’t overschedule activities. Boredom is key for students with developing minds. Limit time on social media. Some time for turning off the brain and entertainment is fine – but too much phone time short-circuits attention spans and the ability to focus. Curiosity is innate in all human minds, but it’s also a muscle. If it hasn’t been used for a while, it will take some time to bounce back. But cultivating curiosity is one of the most valuable things a student can spend their time on.
Fleeing boredom rewires our brain for distracted work. In essence, people who multitask or seek constant entertainment cannot filter out irrelevant information. They can’t sit with one item at a time. In other words, they struggle with working memory, inhibitive control, and cognitive flexibility. Start small with simple rules or challenges. Ask your son or daughter to focus on one task at a time rather than multitasking during mundane activities: brushing teeth, riding in the car, walking to class, etc. The simple act of leaning into boredom makes a huge difference when it comes time to study. Next, push the envelope a bit by relegating highly stimulating activities (social media, video games, and Netflix) to specific time periods each week.
We hope you enjoyed these candid thoughts on curiosity and its vital role in improving executive function. For more ideas like this, please check out our blog. If your child could benefit from one-on-one academic coaching, please reach out today to learn more about our services.