I was trailing ten feet behind my four-year-old son, quickening my step to catch up. His short legs were hopping from crack to crack on the sidewalk. He leapt over a tree root bulging between the concrete tiles and, landing on two feet, he froze. He was looking at the base of the tree next to him.
A cricket was tangled in a spider web. The cricket thrashed as the spider spun it, wrapping it in silk. The web pulsed as the white lump of spider silk got bigger and bigger. My son leaned in close and watched until the spider stopped. “Dadda, what's the spider doing?”
As a parent, I love moments like these. A spark of curiosity catches hold and you see a small flame in your child's eyes. It's easy to innocently react to the detour and extinguish the flame. “Don't touch that, it's dirty” or “Keep walking, we're late,” you might say. But if you stop and nurture the curiosity, you'll witness the growth of a scientific mind.
I kneeled down to his level and asked, “What do you see?”
“The spider was playing with that ball and then he stopped. There is a thing in his web. What's that thing in his web?”
We talked about what we saw. I shared in his excitement and took his questions seriously. That's it.
There is a lot of concern today about the broken education system in our country. The concern is justified and the problem is even worse than most know. I spend my days working to reform education. But the biggest opportunity to transform learning is not in schools, it's within all of us parents. It's remarkable how little this is talked about. By the time my son reaches third grade, he will have spent more than 15,000 hours with me as his guide. My job is to shape his attitude toward life.
At this early age, in the role of teacher, I have only one goal: help him stay curious.
Curiosity is an emotion. It's a response that someone has to a question, an idea, or an observation — it's a strong desire to know more, to understand. Children are naturally curious, but as most children become adolescents and then adults, they grow numb to this feeling. They stop wanting to understand. This indifference is the result of the countless times their questions were ignored or their observations disregarded. They got the message loud and clear: stop asking, stop wondering, these things shouldn't concern you.
To help my son stay curious, I simply take his questions seriously and we investigate them together. Sometimes I'm able to guide him to an answer, other times I scratch my head. What matters is the orientation towards questions — towards new knowledge. I influence how he approaches knowledge by how I respond to his questions.
Just like the first step to developing reading comprehension and vocabulary is to help my son fall in love with books. The first step to developing logical reasoning and scientific literacy is to help my son stay curious.
The world is a fascinating place. Enjoy it together.