Updated: May 22, 2020
“We don’t create the meaning of our life, we discover it.” said the famous French philosopher, Sartre.
Human beings are born with an irresistible power of curiosity and an inherent skill to learn. When we are curious to know about something, we rush to find answers. The curiosity could be about diverse subjects: why dinosaurs are extinct or how the earth was formed or how dogs communicate or what happens when we freeze water or what happens when we mix water and paint or how does the sun rise? Curiosity drives us to find answers for umpteen queries that rise in our minds naturally.
Human babies are born to be curious as is evident when we observe a baby that tries to grasp objects, a baby who keeps staring at an object or who explores gravity by throwing things.
Do we think that curiosity dies as the child starts growing up or is curiosity being killed by the education system that was devised to educate future assembly line workers during the industrial revolution?
Research tells us that curiosity is a form of an self-motivation that is key in fostering active learning and spontaneous exploration. For this reason, curiosity-driven learning and intrinsic motivation have been argued to be fundamental ingredients for efficient education (Freeman et al., 2014).
Do we really need a new pedagogy to teach curiosity? Or Need we just trust the natural instincts of human beings?
Curiosity that has led us to fresh discoveries, path-breaking inventions, new techniques and innovative businesses. It is the curiosity of cave people that led them to create fire with stones, it is the curiosity that is the driving force behind Albert Einstein, Newton, Marie Curie and every scientist as well as many modern day creative entrepreneurs.
When we are self-motivated to find answers, we don't need any rewards and/ or punishments to learn. Our learning is driven by a fire in the belly to learn. I have compiled a list of questions that children in the age group of 3 to 6 have asked me in the course of my facilitation at Sahaj or in the process of me being a parent at home.
Who was Maharana Pratap?
What food do plants eat?
Do plants understand what I say?
Where does food go when we eat?
How many is 13?
Why is the little girl crying?
Why does this caterpillar have spikes?
Do the spikes hurt us?
Where does the garbage truck go?
A bird has died. What should we do?
How to write alphabets, A, R?
Why do we celebrate the festival Holi?
What do bees do?
Do honeybees make honey?
What is a protest march?
Where does money come from?
We embark on the process to find answers to these questions through a mix of teaching aids, demonstrations, (for instance for counting and writing), observing the child self-discover answers to certain questions, field trips, interactions, group discussions etc. In the process, we have realized that the children led us to subject areas that transcend the age-specific, subject-wise classification done by schools and education boards. For instance, history is introduced as a subject in Grade VI in a CBSE board school. At Sahaj, however, we have our kindergartners learn about history, human biology, life science, environmental science, culture, democracy.
As children discover life, children TEACH US that perhaps, learning can never be compartmentalized in subjects and curriculum. As young children, they are discovering life, making sense of the world around them and it becomes our collective responsibility as parents and educators to protect their right to discovery.
The process to find answers too is PLAY since the child has chosen to LEARN and the teaching is not enforced on children. It is the drive to know, the drive to discover that keeps the joy of learning ALIVE.
Can we spark curiosity in children?
We can definitely ignite a spark, however, the prerequisite to raising curious children is to create a SAFE SPACE for children.
We need to create a space where children feel respected for who they are. A space where children are neither judged, shamed, ridiculed, labelled or disrespected. It is only through creating a safe space that the children feel comfortable in asking questions.
Raising a curious child naturally is akin to growing plants. Just as a plant needs sufficient sunlight, nutrient rich soil, water for it to grow naturally; similarly, in order for children to grow naturally, we need to offer them a "safe space" for children to be their own authentic self.
As play educators when we FOLLOW THE CURIOSITIES OF CHILDREN, we adopt the role of being a SILENT OBSERVER, we are more attuned to listening to children then being their TEACHERS. We direct when needed and grasp the teachable moments.
If, as play educators, we become preoccupied in TEACHING children, then, children miss out on an opportunity to THINK and we miss out on an opportunity to LISTEN. To draw an analogy, if a teacher enters a kindergarten classroom to teach numbers, shapes, nursery rhymes, body parts etc, teachers tends to concentrate on teaching their pre-designed lesson plan and would most probably miss out the precious moments where children can ask questions. This is why at Sahaj we choose to FOLLOW THE CHILD'S CURIOSITY and not to have the CHILD FOLLOW AN ADULT'S PLANS.
Curiosity is magical and we need children to stay curious. It is children who have led us into the opportunities of learning about the history of Mewar, photosynthesis, human digestive system, waste management, reading and writing, honey-making through their questions. After being with children for the past many years, I have learnt that curiosity never kills the cat.
Through our work, we pay an ode to Maria Montessori's teachings on early childhood education in letter and in spirit. She gifted the world with her wisdom for humble things so that we could learn on a daily basis and let our children learn for themselves to become secure and successful adults.
I leave you here with the wise words of Maria Montessori:
The goal of early childhood education should be to activate a child's own natural desire to learn. - Maria Montessori.
About the Author
Ishani Shah-Verdia is a mother, facilitator, play activist, parent cafe facilitator, speaker, co-founder at Sahaj Natural Learning Centre and a life-long learner who learns from children while supporting children in their life journey.