Overview: Children are born with the innate ability to learn.They are naturally curious. It’s our job to foster that natural curiosity and use it to develop a lifelong love of learning.

Standing up in front of the classroom on the first day of a new social studies unit, I asked my students to spend a few minutes thinking and sharing what they want to know about the new topic, Harriet Tubman.

When we started to share, I got questions like “How old was she?” and “Did she like being a slave?” These questions do not show curious students.

These questions show students who can’t think of thought-provoking questions. Students who don’t have a natural curiosity for a new subject.

Why? Because curiosity is dying!

As I began teaching the lesson, I noticed that my students were just listening or reading the information. I knew they weren’t really LEARNING because they were not curious. They didn’t ask questions about Tubman’s adventures.

I found this very odd because Tubman is an interesting woman. These kids were so use to being told information and not inquiring about what they really want to know. They were so use to a teacher asking what they wanted to learn, but not teaching it to them because it was not in the curriculum that they began to fear being curious.

As kids get older, their curiosity declines when they need it the most. Curiosity makes learning easier. When we are curious about something we are more focused and driven to learn about it.

Let’s take a toddler who notices a caterpillar crawling along the side of the house. He has just discovered something new, and I bet he will stand there for as long as his little attention span will let him. He enjoys watching this new discovery.

Discovering something new leads to pleasure in the topic.

Now that he has pleasure in this caterpillar, he wants to know more about it. He talks about this caterpillar non stop, and tries to find a caterpillar in the tub of animals. He asks question after question.

Pleasure leads to repetition and more learning opportunities on the topic.

The more the child plays with the caterpillar, asks about the caterpillar, and explores the caterpillar, the more he is learning.

Repetition leads to mastery of the topic.

He is the caterpillar master now! After exploring, discovering, inquiring, and reading he feels like he knows everything about this caterpillar. The next day, a little girl notices the caterpillar and he tells her everything he knows.

Mastery leads to confidence, and confidence leads to a willingness to act on curiosity in the future.

It’s a cycle. The more curious a kid is, the more they will learn and grow. A less curious kid is harder to teach because he is harder to inspire and motivate.

Curiosity dies from fear, disapproval, and absence. But as parents, we can encourage curiosity to grow even as kids get older. Here are 3 ways to encourage natural curiosity in kids.

1. Encourage

Let me ask a question.

You and your tot are walking outside after it rains. Do you tell them not to jump in the puddle or to jump in it?

We discourage our kids by giving too many don’ts and nos. Adults need to limit these words to unsafe behaviors only. Let them jump in the puddle! They are curious about it!

By telling them no, you are squashing their curiosity and basically telling them that it’s not okay to be curious. Encourage your kids to explore, get messy, tinker, and deviate from the plan. Kids learn best when they are engaged in learning about what THEY want to learn about.

2. Model

Be curious yourself! When you see that caterpillar think aloud. Say things like:

I wonder what that caterpillar eats.

Does a caterpillar look like that his whole life?

Children look up to those that are important in their life. If he sees you being curious, his natural instincts will kick in and he will begin asking his questions. Be curious in your adult world as well. Let your kids see you exploring a new recipe or tinkering with a lawn mower.

3. Provide Opportunities

This is a big one. Enhance that curiosity by providing opportunities. Give your toddler a pot and spoon. Let them explore those objects and see what they discover.

As a parent, you have the best seat in the house for expanding their curiosity. Pay attention to their likes and their excitements. Build on them by providing activities around that topic. If they notice the trash truck outside and play trash collectors all day, then make the next day’s activities focus on trash collectors while they are still interested in it.

Related: Child-Led Learning: How to Stay Organized with a Wonder Journal

Continue to encourage curiosity throughout their life. As school gets more focused and curriculum based, the less curiosity and opportunity for inquiry. Which ultimately leads to a decline in curiosity.