Walt Whitman said, ‘Be curious, not judgemental.’ A few generations later, Arnold Edinborough wrote, ‘Curiosity is the very basis of education and if you tell me that curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly.’
Curiosity plays out in many ways. It’s verbalised in the form of ‘Why?’, ‘I wonder...’ and ‘What if...’, and it’s actioned in the form of observing, playing and having a go. A state of curiosity is one of the most powerful foundations for learning at all ages. When learning is underpinned by curiosity, the learner tends to be self-driven and persevere despite obstacles and failures, and the learning outcomes are most likely to be retained not for only for the short term, but the long term.
Curiosity’s benefits extend beyond learning. In his book Wait, What?, Jim Ryan explains that scores of social scientists have documented that curiosity is conducive to health and happiness. He goes on to write, ‘Curiosity also leads to empathy, an emotion that seems in short supply today. Curious people are likely to be healthier, and to experience less anxiety in particular, because they see new situations as an opportunity to learn rather than an opportunity to realise they don’t know enough. Curious people are also, according to some studies, likely to live longer, presumably because they are more engaged with the world around them. Just as asking ‘I wonder why?’ will keep you curious about the world, asking ‘I wonder if?’ will keep you engaged in the world.’
Educationalists including Ken Robinson and Amanda Fox assert that the traditional compliance-oriented model of education crushed curiosity and that the role of schools today should be to foster and promote curiosity, in order that children will become lifelong learners in our constantly evolving world.
The benefits of curiosity in terms of learning and social connection are immense for children. They are for us adults, too!
- Jane Mueller, Principal