I never particularly cared for the cliché that “curiosity killed the cat.” It has always struck me as a way of conflating curiosity with senseless risk taking. The cat wasn’t killed because it was curious; it died because it made poor choices when assessing a situation. In other words, curiosity didn’t kill the cat, poor situational awareness did (unfortunately, this is nowhere near as catchy.)

Cliché aside, I really want to develop the curiosity of my children. At school, I know that this is encouraged, but time and curriculum standards often get in the way. Kids are naturally curious about the world, but our responses as adults can discourage or diminish this aptitude. So, I have been slowly building my own parent curiosity toolkit to help build this skill in my children (and keep me from shutting them down).

Here’s what’s in the toolkit:

  • A knife (to open things and expose expose the hidden)
  • Pen and paper (for drawing things,  recording observations, and writing down questions to answer later)
  • Something to make small things big (cell phone cameras can do this)
  • Something to make far things closer (your cell phone camera can do be this, but anything with optical zoom is better)
  • Screwdrivers for opening things
  • Google/Siri/Bing (I know I don’t have all of the answers)
  • Your own sense of wonder

These are the basics. The rest of the toolkit can include real tools from your own toolkit (e.g. hammer for breaking things), the contents of your recycling bin, and anything in the kitchen. You may even want to make your local library the extension of the toolkit.

The toolkit doesn’t need be physically in one place. Rather, it’s a state of mind (and a ready list of where to find things) to help you answer and encourage questions of why, how, and what.

Getting started is pretty easy. You can start with a simple activity borrowed from mindfulness practitioners. Take  a short walk in your neighborhood. Stay silent and just look around, taking in things you haven’t noticed. Talk with your child about what you both saw. Use this as a starting point for wonder.

Part of the challenge of encouraging your child’s curiosity is making sure to reconnect with your own. Are you fascinated by shows like Mythbusters, cooking shows, or any of the dozens of home makeover shows? Those are all about exploring and understanding the world. Was there a science topic that intrigued you when you were a kid? Reconnect with it and share it with your child. Did you hear a fascinating report on the radio or on the TV news? Share that, too.

What would you put in your parent curiosity toolkit and how would you get started?