Children start their life with a natural, innate curiosity. Think of how many times a two-or-three year old asks, “Why?” All those questions and experiences help make the connections in the brain that become the basis of knowledge for the rest of life.
As children grow, though, their environment affects that curiosity. When they are encouraged to explore and try new things, the curiosity rockets onward laying down a rich web of brain connections. However, if curiosity is criticized, condemned, punished, or unstimulated, fewer brain connections form.
Brain connections equate to knowledge, experience, critical thinking, worldview, self-image, etc. The richer the environment and opportunities the greater the depth of development.
So how does one promote exploring and trying new things in children? Here are 5 easy ways to try.
(1) Model the behavior you want to see in your child.
If you want them to explore, then YOU explore. If you want them to try new things, then YOU try new things. This sounds simple, but it’s really the gatekeeper of your effectiveness. Your children WILL imitate you, so be what you want them to become. There’s really no other way around this.
(2) Be a scaffold, not a guy wire.
You’ve seen a tall radio tower. As the builders add section after section, they attach “guy wires.” Those wires help the tower grow taller and remain stable. What happens when the guy wires are taken away, however? The tower cannot stand on its own. By design, it relies on the guy wires.
By contrast, when builders begin constructing a skyscraper, they create scaffolds to help add floor after floor. They supply the temporary support until the building can stand on its own. Eventually, the scaffolds come down, but the building remains.
That’s nice in theory, but how do I scaffold my child’s development? Let them do things on their own. Challenge them to do things that are just a little beyond their ability. Stretch them. And when they accomplish it, tell them how proud you are of them making the effort. Be careful to praise the process NOT just the product. Praise them for trying, not just for succeeding. Remember, we have to try a lot more than we actually succeed. You want them to always be willing to try, regardless of the outcome.
(3) Read, read, and read some more!
Before your child learns to read, YOU read to them! Read to them every day. You will both love the time spent together. Go to the library and choose books together. A website or video reading a book to your child is better than nothing, but YOU reading to them is the best.
Once they learn to read, support their efforts by supplying them with books. Get them their own library card or form a book cooperative with some friends where you trade books. Visit the used bookstore often. Books make great gifts and rewards.
If you have older children, encourage them to read to younger siblings as well. There may even be a “big brother/big sister” reading program at their school where they read to younger students. Check into it. Suggest it.
Reading promotes achievement in school—not just in language arts, but in math, science, social studies, and arts as well! Promoting reading at home is one of the best investments you can make in your children.
(4) Limit screen time.
An hour a day of TV or Video or tablet or phone is plenty. Explorers are active. They move. They go outside. They go to the park. When the brain sees, hears, touches, smells, and tastes, the learning is much deeper. Those experiences are all wired into different brain systems and then connected. Remember, the more connections…
(5) Expect them to explore and try new things.
Make that expectation the “norm” in life. Give them many chances. Don’t settle for less. Communicate your expectations in positive ways. “Wow, we ‘get’ to try new food from another country tonight!” Rather than, “You will try this or you’ll be punished.” Or “I know it looks gross, but do you want to try it?” Be positive and expect exploration.
These are five ways you can promote that natural curiosity that God has wired into all of us. You’ll be glad you invested and took the time to make explorers who love to try new things.