Enter The Curiosity Cycle – Preparing Your Child For The Ongoing Technological Explosion by Jonathan Mugan. It’s the kind of parenting book that is so appropriate for this day and age because it addresses the increasingly digital world in which we live and raise our children. But guess what? Most of this book isn’t even about technology, but rather how to nurture and maximize our children’s inborn curiosity.
The Curiosity Cycle targets parents with children from birth til around 10, and I have four in that age range right now. More importantly though, it contains valuable information and advice for me as a homeschooling parent, and by “homeschooling” I simply mean anytime you are with your child outside of school, that you take advantage of teachable moments. My children just happen to be outside of school 24-7.
To be honest, when I think about what has shaped me as a lifelong learner and thinker, I don’t credit my formal education. Instead, I reflect on family field trips, camping, hiking, and just playing outdoors. I also think about isolated moments like this one time in Denny’s when I noticed my reflection was upside-down in my spoon and asked my dad why. Rather than give me an answer, he continued asking me questions to get me thinking. What followed was an afternoon of flipping through encyclopedias and learning about reflection and refraction, convex and concave. I am a strong believer in curiosity-driven learning and Mugan explains why this is the best kind of preparation for a world dominated by smart computers.
So, what is the curiosity cycle exactly? Simply put, it’s the way children build a web of knowledge. As they are exposed to new concepts, they create models which are like predictions of how those concepts work in the world. Then, they test those models and grasp more new concepts along the way. Don’t worry, there’s a diagram and Mugan, a research scientist, gives us the science behind the cycle in layman terms. What’s clear is that their natural curiosity feeds the cycle and the cycle feeds their curiosity.
Throughout the book, Mugan offers tons of ideas to feed the curiosity cycle through simple activities, games, and even just conversation starters. Some ideas were completely new, while others gave me a confidence-boost in my parenting/homeschooling style. For example, tonight at dinner my son said, “This salad dressing is good. Did you make or buy it?” I replied that I had “purchased” it. Of course he asked what does “purchase” mean, so I continued a very casual dinner conversation about words that mean the same thing, and yes, I called them synonyms. Soon, we were coming up with synonyms for all kinds of words and this naturally led to antonyms. Mugan writes about not worrying whether kids are grasping an entire concept because any exposure helps them create placeholders to hold this new information in place and build upon as they revisit the concept in the future. Even my two-year-old got in on the action when I asked, “What’s the opposite of sleepy?” and she shouted, “Wake up!”
Indeed, in our children’s futures, curiosity-based thinking will be more important than simply coming up with correct answers to given questions. Memorizing and spitting out facts isn’t going to cut it because computers can do that for us. What computers cannot do is mimic our natural curiosity and creativity…so the more we encourage the curiosity cycle, the better their chances of maneuvering successfully through a world where the robot population is rapidly growing. Yikes is right! According to Mugan, “To be safe from robot replacement, your child should consider a career that requires a lot of either creativity or manual dexterity, as robots will not be good at either in the near future.”
Eventually, Mugan discusses how to deal with technology in a way that continues the curiosity cycle rather than kills it. This was important for me because as a parent, I, too, need to have flexible and adaptive thinking. Remember, we don’t own a TV and I allow very limited screen time for DVDs and “educational” video games. However, I do want my children to be prepared to navigate the tech world with online smarts. I see the advantages of practicing with technology and this book exposed me to applications that are useful and conducive to my parenting goals. But this here, is the bottom line, “Technology offers a great opportunity to spin the curiosity cycle to build a web of knowledge, but you don’t want your child to spend all day staring at a glowing box of pixels. Our web of knowledge is grounded in physical experience, and our natural state is to be out in the sunshine.”
There is so much more to The Curiosity Cycle regarding our children’s academic and emotional development. What’s funny is it’s the first book I read using the Kindle app on my iPhone…talk about changing technology! While I’m not going to make this a habit, I did appreciate being able to highlight, take notes, and then see a list of all my notes and marks in one place. I now have an easy way to reference everything in the book that struck me as helpful that I want to implement with my children. Especially helpful is a descriptive list of media resources in the end that includes videos, books, video games, programming, board and card games, useful websites, and podcasts.
I happen to follow Jonathan Mugan, a dad of 3, on twitter (@jmugan) so when I found out he was writing a book, I was genuinely interested, and in awe. I’m in awe of anyone who writes a book no matter what the genre. He was nice enough to send me a draft of the first chapter and let me tell you…it required
COFFEE my brain at full attention which meant that I procrastinated the heck out of reading it. In fact, I put it on the back burner for months, but ultimately I wanted to finish what I set out to do. So I took advantage of one particular night when my brain was alert and my kids were asleep and found that I was truly intrigued by the subject matter. It was a bit on the science-y side which was actually quite stimulating.
I was so proud when I finished the preview chapter, I had to tweet him that night. Coincidently, it happened to be the day before his book was released on Amazon. So I decided to purchase the book to support him and I’m happy I did.
Know what else makes me happy? How the cover of this book reminds me of my favorite art exhibit for kids.
What are your technology concerns when it comes to your children?