These are the words of Fred Rogers, that gentle and consummate educator that mentored and guided children from 1968-2001 in his PBS series, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. "We learn so much from wondering."
All children wonder. All children are curious. It is this common trait that propels their early learning. It is this same characteristic that leads to break-throughs and innovations in their adult years. Regardless of age or situation, the leading questions are the same. "What is that?" "How can I engage with it?" "Now what?" "How will I, or others, benefit from this interaction?" It continues to be that element of surprise and fulfillment that drives our curiosity; that strong desire to to make sense of something or to learn something new. Curiosity and wonder should be the cornerstone of a child's educational experience.
Sadly, it's not.
I devote many pages of my book, The Education Kids Deserve, to the topic of curiosity and how it plays out in schools. As children enter school, what they may be curious about is replaced with a standard curriculum. What drives their curiosity, or what they may want to learn, is no longer important. The "system" decides what subjects are worthy of wonder and what the end result of any exploration will be. Gradually, over time, students are taught to rely less on their innate curiosity (as well as their creativity, which will be explored in future posts) and to trust that the decisions made by curriculum designers hold greater merit.
To further substantiate my claim, consider this quote from Amanda Lang's The Power of Why (2017). "In an educational system in which productivity is measured by hours logged per task, number of worksheets completed and scores on standardized tests, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to prompt kids to ask more questions unless the questions are about what’s going to be on the test. In many classrooms, stopping to encourage and mull over questions that aren’t procedural or directly related to the material at hand is viewed as wasting time. It’s no big surprise then that most kids come to school bursting with questions, but exit, a dozen or so years later, asking very few. Curiosity declines from one grade to the next, and the reason isn’t (emphasis is mine) that kids’ thirst for knowledge has been satiated and they now know everything they want or need to know."
I argue that the curiosity that students bring with them to the school house should be considered an instructional asset, rather than a distraction or a waste of time. Tapping into student curiosity is a way to personalize the educational experience and to pave a road toward finding relevance. (Please see my previous posts on the topics of relevance and engagement.) Yet, practitioners frequently argue the practicality of imbedding curiosity into instruction. “Given that curiosity has such a positive impact on learning, you might assume that teachers are doing everything they can to encourage it. But, that is not the case.” (Susan Engel, "The Case for Curiosity," Educational Leadership 2013) Common arguments call for greater resources to provide materials for students to utilize in the pursuit of their curiosity, and that a curious classroom will be chaotic unless class sizes are deliberately kept small. To these, and certainly an endless litany of reasons why nurturing curiosity may be impractical, of not impossible, I call "foul." The decision to effectively use student curiosity is not one hampered by time, resources or class size. It is only hampered by a willingness to embrace the fundamental characteristics, and needs, of the students before us. To not embrace student curiosity is akin to denying children the essence of who they are, and to devalue what they bring to this mysterious enterprise called teaching and learning. Curiosity will lend itself to inquiry, which, in turn, offers inter-disciplinary thinking and connections. (Both are topics of The Education Kids Deserve and future blog posts.) Nurturing curiosity is fundamental. It's not just a good idea, it's key. It is essential.
“Curiosity isn’t the icing on the cake, it’s the cake itself.” (Engel 2013)
"We learn so much from wondering." I contend we learn very little without it.