Child’s level of curiosity tied to their academic success

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Several factors can give children an advantage in the classroom, such as family income, early childhood socialization programs, and home environment. Now researchers tout another factor that could be just as beneficial to children: curiosity.

Researchers at the University of Michigan say that a student’s level of curiosity may demonstrate how well they’ll perform academically, even if they come from a disadvantaged background. To reach their findings, the authors analyzed data from 6,200 kindergarteners from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Birth Cohort. The project is a representative, population-based study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, which has followed thousands of children since birth in 2001.

Young boy playing with blocks
A new study finds that a student’s level of curiosity may demonstrate how well they’ll perform academically, even if they come from a disadvantaged background. (Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash)

The researchers compared a behavioral questionnaire from parents with assessed reading and math achievement among kindergarteners. Parents were subject to in-home interviews, and the children were tested at nine months and two years old, then again at the start of preschool and kindergarten.

Socioeconomic status was found to have a big effect on classroom performance, but what surprised the researchers was that children who were characterized as curious, as according to the questionnaire, performed as well as children from higher socioeconomic classes.

“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 lead researcher Dr. Prachi Shah, an assistant research scientist at Michigan’s Center for Human Growth and Development, in a university release.

“Curiosity is characterized by the joy of discovery and the desire for exploration and is characterized by the motivation to seek answers to the unknown,” adds Shah. “Promoting curiosity in children, especially those from environments of economic disadvantage may be an important, underrecognized way to address the achievement gap.”

Curiosity is great, but it needs to be encouraged and fostered. Generally, children in higher-income homes are more encouraged to read and practice their math skills. On the other hand, kids from poorer backgrounds have fewer resources to offer them stimulation, thus linking their academic drive to their desire to their motivation and curiosity.

Shah says that just as much as pediatricians and education leaders alike often promote the need for early academic achievement, it may be prudent to do the same for fostering curiosity.

“Promoting curiosity is a foundation for early learning that we should be emphasizing more when we look at academic achievement,” Shah concludes, but also notes, “further research is needed to help us better understand how to develop interventions to cultivate curiosity in young children.”

The full study was published April 26, 2018 in the journal Pediatric Research.

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