Why is curiosity more important than knowledge? + 5 ways to encourage it in children

At some point in our lives, we’ve all heard the saying, “Curiosity killed the cat”. Our parents, teachers, other grown-ups, and friends have most probably warned us. They told us not to be poking around and investigating the nature of various things. To a certain aspect that saying comes to signify a valid point. But there is a poignant ending to the phrase, “Curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction brought it back.”

Why is curiosity more important than knowledge?

While we are meditating on this quote, let’s check out another one. This one comes from the infamous Albert Einstein. He has noted, “Curiosity is more important than knowledge.” Maybe in today’s educational system curiosity isn’t the thing that is mostly developed. Schools and, to a certain degree, even colleges later may focus on memorizing facts that have been pre-laid-out in the latest textbook. But shouldn’t we strive for our children to develop their curious minds? Shouldn’t we encourage them to be curious about the nature of things? Isn’t it better if they can reach conclusions on their own and connect the dots to see the bigger picture?

According to a 2009 study that used functional MRI to see whether there are actual neurological hints of whether curiosity is related to learning, some interesting aspects were found. The authors used trivia questions for the subjects in the study. The MRI showed that the more curiosity the subject had about a particular trivia question, the more activity was there in an area of the brain associated with the anticipated reward. Then a behavioral study noted that learners were more likely to spend scarce resources for understanding things they were curious about. Another finding in this particular study came to show increased activity, when curiosity was bigger, in specific memory areas following incorrect guesses of the answer. The authors suggested this to be due to curiosity enhancing memory for taking in new information. A follow-up behavior study confirmed the theory. Higher initial curiosity leads to better recollection 1-2 weeks later.

A later study from 2014 also used functional MRI to check the mechanisms behind curiosity and learning. The participants were subjected to different memory tests. High curiosity correlated with improved memory for various information. The imaging tests showed that when the participants were more curious, there was bigger activity in the midbrain and the nucleus accumbens. Those are structures in the brain related to memory and learning. In the midbrain and the hippocampus, there was anticipatory activity, the study also noted. The authors suggest that there is a link between extrinsic rewards and intrinsic curiosity. They also say it might be important to try and stimulate curiosity for better learning outcomes.

But how exactly can we do that? How to stimulate curiosity, and how to cultivate it in our children? Well, there is no single answer to that topic. After all, children have different interests. In some areas, it might be quite easy to get the child inspired to investigate, learn, and research. In others, quite the contrary. Yet, there are steps and methods we can take advantage of to help our children become more curious. As a result, they'd learn better, develop much more quality learning habits, and prosper.

To begin with, we should note another particular finding. Another study showed the following. Curiosity is predicted by the perception of the participant about their prior knowledge. So, some researchers have suggested that there is certainly a benefit from specific educational methods. Namely, the ones that use materials and information slightly above the present competence level of the learner.

We have gathered some ideas you can use to sparkle your children’s curiosity.

  • Family Time

  • It’s of the utmost importance to spend quality family time together. And this doesn’t even need to be in the form of long study sessions. Rather, you can just catch the bus and visit a nearby museum. Or hop in the car and go to the zoo. But you don’t even have to leave the house to do family things. You can make the next dinner together. Or solve a thrilling puzzle. Or play a family educational game. Whatever it is, time spent together can give your children’s curiosity quite the boost.

  • Experience the World

  • If you want your children to be curious, you need to present them with new things. Those can be simply learning about a new culture. Or having a brief lesson on a new language (who knows, this might turn into proficiency later on). Also, you can use this to bond with the family and go camping, hiking, or visit another country during the summer. If you cannot go abroad, no worries. Just do a day-long trip to a nearby town to roam the unknown streets for a while. All new experiences broaden the horizon of your children. They make them more curious about the world.

  • Encourage Their Interests

  • Your children are curious about something. It might be a subject, or it might be completely unrelated to school. But whatever it is, do encourage it - as long as it’s safe, legal, and healthy. Give them opportunities to play, read and to visit their favorite places.

  • Encourage Thinking

  • Whenever your children have questions, you can use a simple technique. Ask them what they think. For instance, if they ask why the sky is blue, ask them back, “Why do you think that is?”. Sure, don’t expect correct answers. Through that you have them thinking on their own. And trying to find logical explanations. With time, they’d get quite good at that.

  • Unstructured Play

  • Yes, study time is important. Structured learning comes to aid children in certain aspects. But for your children and their curiosity unstructured play is also a huge deal. Through it, they test, discover, form ideas, check how they’d work, see problems, and try to solve them. Quite a lot of things, right? So, make sure you set aside some precious time for your children to be children and play around.

    In conclusion, there are plenty of benefits of the ‘curious’ attitude when it comes to learning and developing healthy habits. More curious children will look at studying as something more entertaining. They'd try to find out what lies underneath it, rather than simply try to memorize facts. They’d also learn faster and more. But also it gives them other valuable tools for the future. Learning with curiosity; being curious in general helps children uncover the cause-and-effect relationship. It also boosts their problem-solving and critical thinking. This turns them into strong future leaders who continually move forward to success in their careers!