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The Curiosity Cycle – A Book Review

by Christine@TheAums on March 19, 2012 · 10 comments

There are timeless classics in the genre of parenting books, but times are changing faster than you can say What To Expect The Toddler Years.

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?

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Janice March 19, 2012 at 3:17 pm

I am a big advocate when it comes to learning from experience. I think learning should be a lifelong process. Using teachable moments in any place is a must for any parent – for whatever age their children happen to be. My husband and I are always looking for new things to point out to our daughters. They love learning about new things. And as for technology….I really need to get a handle on it. Maybe come up with a schedule or something. With my Kindle Fire, smartphone, Nintendo DS, Wii, TV, computer, and even E-Readers, it’s getting a little hard to keep track of how much “screen” time my girls are getting. Not good. I REALLY need to get this act together!

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Christine@TheAums March 19, 2012 at 10:38 pm

I love being a life-long learner and truly hope I pass that on to my kids. Sounds like you are doing the same. I did like many of the author’s suggestions for making screen time count and finding some balance.

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liz @ The Six Year Itch March 20, 2012 at 8:38 pm

I follow Jonathan on Twitter too! I didn’t know he was writing a book, so this is fascinating on two levels. My daughter love, love, LOVES TV. Usually, she’ll do anything to get out of reading. As a book worm myself, that was hard to stomach at first. But she is incredibly creative and artistic: building things, imaginative play. Based on your review, there’s hope. =) Or, at least, the next woman director of a few horror movies.

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Christine@TheAums March 21, 2012 at 7:58 am

You should give her a camera so she can start early, there’s definitely enough movie props around your house. I seem to recall some tips for making TV watching a part of the curiosity cycle, and he even says something about watching junk and how junk is culture and you don’t want your children to be culturally isolated…you know, like mine!

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Stasha March 21, 2012 at 9:39 am

Wonderful review. I absolutely love what you said about homeschooling. Cause we all homeschool in a way and the sooner parents realize it, the better for it we all will be.

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Christine@TheAums March 22, 2012 at 1:36 am

Thank you, Stasha!

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Lanae (@Hungrigyrl) March 21, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Very cool! I follow him on Twitter too, and now that I have read your review I am going to buy the book. The power of bloggers! Thanks for the info. :)

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Christine@TheAums March 22, 2012 at 1:37 am

You’re welcome! I’m sure that will make Jonathan happy :)

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Angus June 12, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Wow. That sounds like REALLY sound advice for todays parents. Well done, Christine.
Angus recently posted..Ray BradburyMy Profile

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Christine@TheAums June 12, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Why, thank you :)

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