C is for Curiosity

As early years practitioners, we have the power to excite, entice and engage young children in Curiosity, Investigation and Discovery as they play. Through the meaningful interactions we share with the young minds in our settings, we create many opportunities to support children to connect and extend their learning and understanding of experiences and growing awareness of the world.

Young children are innately curious. Their developing senses are heightened to every new sound, sight, taste, smell and touch. Some sensations will trigger children’s curiosity and desire to explore, whereas others have the potential to cause negative reactions. As practitioners, we can support children’s development towards a courageous outlook when encountering new objects, experiences and stimuli through encouraging language use, and by modelling genuine intrigue and excitement.

It can be challenging as adults for us to fully understand just how new and exciting the world has the potential to be for young children. Everyday objects and materials that we now perceive as mundane due to continuous exposure to them throughout our lives, have the capacity to inspire and engage children in their early years. This natural curiosity provides great learning and development opportunities, and in this blog we will share how practitioners can support and encourage this curiosity in meaningful ways.


Defining Curiosity

Since the 20th century, educationalists and academics have tried to define curiosity in different ways. In a 2016 article, Grossnickle reviewed a variety of sources, and she gives suggestions for how curiosity can be split in terms of varied dimensions. One way she identifies curiosity can be split, is by the way in which children explore a curious object or experience. Grossnickle groups these objects into: physical curiosity; perceptual curiosity; social curiosity; and, epistemic curiosity (Grossnickle, 2016).

When a child is physically curious, they might ask questions like “What’s that over there?” and have a desire to investigate by using their movements to explore the space around them and their position within it.

When a child is perceptually curious, they are driven to explore particular objects and their potential use. They might ask “What does this do?” or “What is this for?”.

When they are socially curious, children are intrigued by the opinion of others, and curious about how people see the world differently. You can observe this when you hear them asking “What do you think?”.

Epistemic curiosity is more likely to be sparked at a later stage of development, as this is when we are curious to explore and to know information that is linked to mature cognitive ideas, such as philosophy, social and public policy and societal norms (Grossnickle, 2016).

Understanding these different definitions and dimensions will help us as practitioners to engage and support children’s varied curiosities through the experiences and opportunities we provide in our settings. We can try to involve varied resources and experiment with their positioning in our settings to encourage children to explore and investigate in a variety of different ways, and for different reasons.

Curiosity and the Learning Process

When children are Curious, they are inspired to Investigate. As they Investigate, they have the opportunity to make Discoveries. These Discoveries then have potential to lead to meaningful learning moments. So how can we make sure we allow for Curiosity to be sparked in our settings?

Early years settings should be filled with many varied resources which allow for opportunities for children to ask curious questions. Dombro, Jablon, and Stetson (2011) suggest that practitioners can use children’s curiosity to scaffold their learning. They explain that this is most successful when practitioners and adults are present in the setting, and observant to any curious moments that arise (Dombro, Jablon, and Stetson, 2011).

When they recognise a child’s curiosity, they should connect with the child by showing an interest in their questions and wonderings, and in the object or situation which has intrigued them (Dombro, Jablon, and Stetson, 2011). Practitioners can then help to extend the child’s learning by providing answers to the child’s questions, or by asking questions in response to activate their higher-order thinking skills (Dombro, Jablon, and Stetson, 2011).

Here are some examples of how you could use questioning to support children’s curiosity in your home corners or messy kitchens: “This is an apron, what do you think we might use it for?”; “How else could we use these tongs? Can you think of any games we could play together?”; “What different colours can you see in this bowl?”.


Capturing Curiosity with Infants and Toddlers

Recognising curiosity is somewhat easier with the older children in our settings, if they are able to deploy language to ask questions. It might seem more difficult to recognise when babies are curious, as they are unable to vocalise when things have caught their attention.

It can be helpful to remind ourselves that curiosity is the desire to find out more about something. Parlakian (2020) gives a list of behaviours that we might observe in babies that let us know they are engaged in curiosity towards something:

  • “Expressions of wondering or questioning (raised eyebrows, for example);
  • Steady gazes between what’s being observed and a trusted information source (parent, teacher, or older child);
  • Vocalisations (of excitement, or rising, questioning intonation);
  • Or pointing (as if to say, “What is that?” or “What is happening here?”).”


Be Courageous, Be Curious

It is exciting to observe young children in their explorations of the world. As adults, we are limited in terms of finding novelty in experiences, whereas most experiences are completely new to children in their early years. Appreciating just how wonderful curiosity is, and the opportunities we can create for children to learn from when we scaffold their curious questions and gazes, can greatly impact how the children in our settings engage with and approach learning throughout the rest of their lives.

When we support curiosity, we encourage children to be courageous; to try new things; to explore; to wonder; and, to question.

In our next blog, we’ll share insights about how curiosity might help us to improve the Attainment Gap. Keep an eye out on our social media channels for ideas of an experience that might spark children’s curiosity in your settings.



Dombro, A., J. Jablon, and C. Stetson. 2011. Powerful interactions: How to connect with children to extend their learning. Washington, DC: NAE

Grossnickle, Emily M. “Disentangling Curiosity: Dimensionality, Definitions, and Distinctions from Interest in Educational Contexts.” Educational Psychology Review 28, no. 1 (2016): 23–60.

Parlakian, Rebecca. “Fostering Curiosity in Infants and Toddlers.” YC Young Children 75, no. 5 (2020): 69–71.