Humans are born curious. Our curiosity helps us make sense of the world and encourages us to learn through observation, play, and exploration. As we continue to grow, our curiosity and thirst for knowledge contribute to our ability to learn, build foundational skills and cultivate a love of learning that translates into future success.
But, as children gain more knowledge and enter environments where information is more structured and organized – youth can lose this sense of curiosity. They can become constrained by their own thought patterns and find it increasingly challenging to stay curious, think differently, and maintain a thirst for knowledge.
The pandemic has also proven to affect our children’s ability to learn, remain curious and maintain a love of learning. Over the past few years, it has been witnessed that a growing and collective concern among many parents and educators that young people have experienced significant learning loss and lost confidence levels due to ongoing school disruptions and societal shifts.
So how can we as parents and educators continue fostering curiosity, building confidence, and instilling a love of learning in children at a time when they need it most?
Here are six tips to encourage STEM and a love of learning
1. Adopt STEM-based learning.
Exposure and experiences in STEM are among the best and most effective ways to develop basic human skills, such as creativity, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence.
STEM is a teaching philosophy that recognizes the connection between the four disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and focuses on project-based activities that apply to real-world scenarios and build practical hands-on skills and confidence. It encourages youth to get curious, work with others, embrace the magic and messiness of trial and error, and take appropriate risks to learn from failure. It is a powerful tool for providing youth with the skills and confidence for just about anything!
2. Let students take an active role in shaping their education.
As part of Actua’s National Girls program, we discovered that when girls take an active role in shaping their education, they feel more empowered and become more confident, capable, and informed leaders. Try letting your children or students take ownership of their learning by offering a range of choices and identifying problems or issues that are important and relevant to them. The goal is to encourage youth to identify and implement creative thinking strategies rather than teach creativity itself.
3. Encourage play.
Play is essential for maintaining curiosity and developing creativity. Research demonstrates that hands-on learning and exploration maximize learning, particularly when compared to more passive learning methods such as reading or listening. To encourage play, parents and educators can consider taking learning outside or into a new environment, letting kids get messy, and don’t be afraid to let them get bored. Boredom has benefits. When kids are bored, they must use their imagination and get creative. Lastly, don’t be afraid of video games. Video games that spur kids to be creative and build, like Minecraft, can be great for fostering creativity and innovation.
4. Consider project-based learning.
Project-based learning helps make learning meaningful, relevant, and fun. Consider giving your children or students a real-life project related to a particular STEM-related topic that challenges them and encourages them to use their imagination.
It’s best to work with them to identify a problem and then ask them to take steps to solve it. For example, you could ask them about which social media apps they engage with. Ask them, what are some of the challenges or issues with these apps, and how could they be improved with new features or technologies?
5. Ask more questions!
Asking questions is key to developing independence and critical thinking. Consider asking your child or student more “what,” “why,” and “how” questions to help maintain their curiosity, reflect on their learning, and conceive new and exciting ways of doing things.
Open-ended questions are also great for promoting divergent thinking, which generates a variety of ideas and solutions to a problem (i.e. “How could we make housing more affordable?” and/or “What could we do to produce fewer plastics?). Alternatively, when your child or student asks you a question, don’t just answer. Encourage them to find the answer with you by asking them questions in return.
6. Focus on the process, not the outcome.
While outcome-based learning, measured by marks and grades, plays a significant role in our current education system, focusing on the process of a project versus the outcome can be highly beneficial to a child’s development. Young people who are too focused on performance and grades are less likely to take risks, be creative and think outside the box. Therefore, parents and educators can encourage kids to take risks, fail and learn from mistakes by praising the process and effort, not the result.
While we don’t know what our future career paths hold or what challenges children may face, we do know that maintaining a sense of curiosity and having an ability to think creatively will be vital to our success in just about everything they do.
Looking to join us in keeping the curiosity of our youth alive by adopting a few of the tips listed above? Visit the Actua Academy for a curated list of curiosity and creativity-building activities, resources, and events.
Jennifer Flanagan is the CEO of Actua. Actua is Canada’s largest science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) youth outreach organization representing over 40 university and college-based members.
Each year, Actua’s growing network of member organizations engages over 350,000 young Canadians in 500 communities nationwide in transformative STEM learning experiences that build critical skills and confidence. Actua focuses on engaging underrepresented youth through specialized programs for Indigenous youth, girls and young women, at-risk youth, and youth living in Northern and remote communities. Its major funding partners include the Government of Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, RBC Foundation, the Suncor Energy Foundation, Protein Industries Canada, TD Bank Group, Toyota Canada Foundation, Enbridge, Microsoft Canada, NCR Foundation, and Imperial. For more information about Actua, visit actua.ca.