Of course, most of us already know that fostering curiosity in a child is important; however, a new study found that curiosity was the single most important factor associated with greater achievement in math and reading at the kindergarten level, and this association was even higher when SES (socio-economic status) was considered.
The study sample included 6200 children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort. The cohort is a nationally representative, population-based study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education that has followed thousands of children since birth in 2001. Measures included direct assessments of reading and math, and a parent-report behavioral questionnaire. Researchers also questioned whether “effortful control” (or the ability to stay focused in class) had any effect and their findings suggest that even if a “child manifests low effortful control…, they can still have higher optimal academic achievement, if they have high curiosity.”
What does this mean?
It means that curiosity may be the most important, yet most under-recognized contributor to academic achievement, according to the study. It also reinforces the fact that we need to do away with drill and skill (and kill) worksheets or any practice that does not require children to think or question, in kindergarten and beyond. Passive activities stifle students’ curious and intellectual natures. And, this is especially true if they are not exposed to activities that do not require lots of thinking, speaking, or discussion outside of school.
The implications for practice suggest that we should strive for active, curious, and sometimes noisy classrooms in pursuit of student-created ideas, questions or problems. As a new teacher, I used to become anxious when my AP would come into observe and my kids would be up around moving and talking in order to solve the problems they were working on. But his words have stuck with me all these years: “Organized chaos is a good thing.” And this, of course, supports the ideas behind my Go-Fish for Word Patterns playing cards. Kids are thinking, discussing, interacting as they are learning or reinforcing word patterns as part of a balanced literacy frame. But activities such as these require us as teachers, educators, parents to design activities that begin with “play” or “problems” and work backward based on what we want students to learn or be able to do. And this doesn’t mean lessening expectations, in fact, it is quite the opposite. Fostering the curious and creative nature of children (and teens!) through interaction with their environment is the single best way to increase academic achievement, motivation, and meet the social-emotional developmental needs of children if we want them to become happy and healthy contributing citizens of the next century.
Study Data: Snow, K. et al. Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) Kindergarten 2006 and 2007 Data File User’s Manual (2010-010). Statistics NCfE. (U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C., 2009).