Young children are naturally curious. The challenge is to adjust their curiosity and allow her to manage every experience and interaction you have with them as a parent. Eddie Theo, a father of two and a senior engineering manager at Dyson, shares some parenting principles.
How did you react to your child’s last question? Did you ignore it or answer the question? And how did you formulate your answer? Perhaps you encouraged them to look for answers themselves?
If you, like me, believe in raising curious children, you might realize that children learn best, ask questions, and seek answers themselves.
As a father of two children in primary school, my wife and I adopted several principles of upbringing. This means following them, including taking a flurry of our children’s questions or frequently disassembling (and collecting) household items such as game controllers (mostly old ones) and computer mice – all in order to arouse a sense of curiosity.
1. No stupid questions
As adults, we tend to forget what it is like to experience the world as a child – where everything seems so unique and where everything seems to work like “magic”. Thus, asking questions is a natural way for children to express their curiosity – the desire to know how everything works and why everything works a certain way.
It may be tempting to respond to a tune of “it’s just that,” or give them a superficial answer, but don’t miss these wonderful opportunities to encourage natural, fierce curiosity in our children. Don’t be afraid to take the time to explain to them simple everyday concepts and perhaps gather a family to explore whether machines with perpetual power supply really work! These are opportunities to discover concepts such as the law of conservation of energy – how energy can neither be created nor destroyed – only transformed from one form to another.
We recently got a solar kit with our own hands. For adults, it probably looks like a child’s play: a small solar panel, a light bulb, some wires. But for a child it becomes a research project. My kids asked questions like, how do solar panels work? We started looking for answers in Google and discovered concepts from solar energy and solar cells to energy conversion and how electricity works. What’s more, it was an educational example of how to use the Internet to find answers.
2. Drop the screen and start working
Encouraging experimentation, accepting failures, and learning through play are at the core of my parenting style. This is best experienced through hands-on activities!
As far as I can remember, my wife and I encouraged open learning and curiosity through the kinds of toys and activities we expose them to – anything from assembling our own sets of sunlight to a microscope and even Ikea tables and chairs! Sometimes they do their “task” and sometimes they don’t – and that’s fine!
For example, we recently had to adjust the height of the Ikea children’s training desk as they outgrew the original height. Again, for an adult it was a relatively simple process:
1. Turn the table over to access the table legs
2. Unscrew the bolts holding the adjustable part of the legs
3. Push your feet to the desired height.
But for children, it has been a great opportunity to learn about hand tools – what they are and how to use them safely. We taught them to be careful with sharp edges, to watch where they place their tools, and how to place your hand when using a screwdriver to prevent accidents.
It is also important to resist the urge to intervene and show them “how it’s done”. Encouraging their curiosity by allowing them to discover the many reasons why something doesn’t work a certain way is just as important as finding out what works. We believe that failure is a great starting point – and helps ensure that curiosity and a desire to endure and do better remain.
3. Restore time history with real stories
Telling inspiring stories about famous engineers and scientists can be a great way to get our kids curious.
As a Dyson engineer, I believe that I share with my children the path that the founder of my company, Sir James Dyson, has taken. He is known for inventing the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner. But in order to get there, he had to work out a whopping 5,127 prototypes in five years. That’s 5,126 setbacks he had to go through before he succeeded!
Questions about failure and why it took so many attempts are a great way to talk about the process of solving problems and finding solutions to everyday problems.
After all, giving our children space for their curiosity is great for their development and well-being. Encouraging questions, mastering them with practical training and sharing stories about real and famous inventors, scientists and researchers are some of the many other ways to encourage this curiosity.
How do you encourage curiosity in your children?