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Teaching Your Kids: The Joy of Discovery Leads to Curiosity

Okay, in this lesson, we're turning our attention to curiosity and learning. And I want to start with a comment from Albert Einstein, who said, "I have no special talents. I have only been passionately curious." Now, that might sound like a bit too much humility for someone as brilliant as Einstein. But there's definitely some truth to it. His point was that being passionately curious paves a strong path to learning. It's like the saying that necessity is the mother of invention. If you have an insatiable desire to know something, you'll eventually find a way to learn it. So if you want to learn anything, start by learning to be curious.

So, how does one learn to be curious? One of the surest paths to a strong sense of curiosity is to experience the thrill and joy of discovery. You know, discovering something you've tried in earnest to find (as opposed to being given the answer with no effort) creates joy and elation like nothing else. And anyone who's known that thrill is likely to want to experience it again and again. So, giving someone that joy of discovery is a gift that will keep on giving for years to come.

And the best example of this I've come across was from a Boy Scout camping trip to Ferne Clyffe State Park in southern Illinois.

One of the Boy Scouts there was named Rick. He was a sixteen-year-old high school student at the time and a senior patrol leader in the scouts. And what that meant was that on a campout, he was in charge of a small group of scouts four or five years younger than him. And on that trip, it had been raining for about an hour by the time they got to the campsite. So, everything was already pretty soaked. So, they set up their tents in the rain and then turned their attention to dinner. The stew was already made but needed to be heated on a fire. But how can you make a fire when all the firewood is wet? You can't, of course. So that's when Rick posed this question to his troop of eleven- and twelve-year-olds. "Where is the dry wood?" And with that, they all scattered off into different directions to find some dry wood in a soaking wet forest.

Well, after fifteen or twenty minutes, they all came back empty-handed. So Rick asked, "Well then, where is there NOT any dry wood?" So that started a whole new debate among the boys, after which they scattered off again, only to come back in another ten minutes empty-handed again. So, finally, Rick picked up a thick branch from the ground, held it up so they could all see it, and asked an even more leading question: "Where on this log is the wood not dry?"

Well, almost in unison, most of the boys answered very matter-of-factly, "On the outside, of course." And then, almost as quickly, came the realization that the "dry wood is on the inside!" Of course! And then, all of a sudden, all the boys raced back out into the woods to collect all the sticks and branches that they'd passed over the last two times, brought them back to the campsite, and started whittling away the wet wood until they got down to the elusive dry wood they'd been after for a half an hour now.

And you can imagine later, Rick sitting around the campfire, taking an extra measure of pride listening to each boy, one after another, taking credit for being the first one to figure out where the dry firewood was.

Rick told me that he remembers hoping none of them would realize how blatant his efforts were to lead them to the answer. You know, they worked hard for this victory, and he wanted them to enjoy it. And they did. And what they also almost certainly did, was get a taste for what it's like to discover something all by yourself. He gave them the gift of discovery.

So, if you want to instill in someone a strong sense of curiosity, find a way to give them the gift of discovery, like Rick did for these Boy Scouts. Give them a challenge. Point them in a good direction. Help them along the way if they need it. But let them make the discovery for themselves. It's an experience they'll want to have over and over.

Until then, share this story with your child and then have a discussion about it. Here are some questions to get you started.

  1. What kinds of things are you the most curious about? What kinds of things do you have a passion to learn about?

  2. How would the story have gone if Rick had just told the scouts where to find dry wood in the first place?

  3. What's the last thing you remember being proud and excited to discover?

  4. What's an example of a question you'd want someone to answer directly without letting you try to discover the answer for yourself?

Okay, in the next lesson, we'll learn a good way, and a bad way, to teach your children.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith