Scat Cat! Curiosity Key When It Comes To Raising Smart Kids

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Cats may want to approach it with caution, but curiosity is definitely something we want to encourage in children. A new study links a child’s level of wonder to his or her ability to more easily pick up on the fundamentals of math and reading.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have found that curiosity goes hand-in-hand with socio-emotional skills in determining kindergarten readiness skills and future academic success. This is a vital piece of information when we consider how best to meet the needs of children from disadvantaged communities.

“Our results suggest that while higher curiosity is associated with higher academic achievement in all children, the association of curiosity with academic achievement is greater in children with low socioeconomic status,” says Prachi Shah, study lead and associate professor of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases with the university, in a statement.

Researchers studied data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort, a national, population-based study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education that followed 6,200 children from birth until the start of kindergarten. Information was gathered from parent interviews and child assessments at nine months, at two years and again at the beginning of preschool/kindergarten when school readiness skills were assessed.

The authors found that curiosity is just as important as the ability to be able to control emotions in determining kindergarten-level abilities. Curiosity was also found to raise academic levels regardless of gender or emotional self-control.

These results bring into question the traditional approach to early childhood interventions that focus on socio-emotional skills, such as self-control. While these traits are important to future success, developing such skills may come at the loss of other important academic traits such as the curiosity needed to reach for the unknown and the sheer pleasure of discovery.

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“These findings suggest that even if a child manifests low effortful control, high curiosity may be associated with more optimal academic achievement,” says Shah. “Currently, most classroom interventions have focused on the cultivation of early effortful control and a child’s self-regulatory capacities, but our results suggest that an alternate message, focused on the importance of curiosity, should also be considered.”

Researchers say their study gives an important piece of information to consider when trying to close the socioeconomic gap. Children growing up in more affluent environments already have better access to reading and math resources than those children growing up in poorer neighborhoods. Researchers have a suggestion to help those students who are starting out at a disadvantage.

“In such situations, the drive for academic achievement is related to a child’s motivation to learn, and therefore his or her curiosity,” explains Shah. “Our results suggest that the promotion of curiosity may be a valuable intervention target to foster early academic achievement, with particular advantage for children in poverty.”

Findings were published April 26, 2018 in the journal Pediatric Research.