What do public documents say about curiosity?

It’s important to stimulate children’s curiosity. Politicians, researchers and teachers in kindergarten agree on that. But what actually is curiosity? And why is it so important? What do public documents say about curiosity in the kindergarten?

Text: MAGNUS HOLM / TRANSLATION: HANNE HERRMAN

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The kindergarten shall stimulate children’s curiosity. It’s written in black on white in the Kindergarten Act. But what does it mean, really?

­“Everybody thinks it’s important to endorse children’s curiosity,  but the reasons why and how vary a lot,” Soern F. Menning explains.

He has just finished his doctoral dissertation on curiosity in the kindergarten. Among many things, he has analysed some of the most important documents that set the rules for Norwegian kindergartens.

In a scientific article he analyses four important documents: the OECD-report “Starting Strong III”, the white paper on quality in the kindergarten today and in the future, and finally the previous Framework Plan for the content and the tasks of kindergartens. The objective has been to find out what these documents mean by the term curiosity, and to study which values are attached to the term.

CURIOSITY AS A TOOL

Menning found that all the four documents were characterized by an instrumental understanding of the term. It means that it primarily was considered a tool the children could use in order to learn something or to acquire knowledge about something. Consequently, the term curiosity itself was strongly attached to values like competence, development and lifelong learning.

An example from the white paper on the kindergarten in the future (Meld. St. 2012-2013): “Children who are encouraged to be curious and to understand and learn something over and over again, have a solid base for further development.”

Curiosity was also closely connected to mathematics and natural science. Menning believes the reasons for this might come from the history of ideas.

“If one goes way back to the early times of Christianity, one finds that curiosity was a sin, something negative. During the Age of Enlightenment, the term became associated with something positive. And the enlightenment project transformed it into a starting point for natural science and exploration. This understanding is still the prevailing one.”

Menning also found a connection between curiosity, democracy and participation in the society. Those values, however, are to a much lesser degree mentioned in comparison to learning and competence, and they are only present in the Norwegian documents.

CURIOSITY IN KEY DOCUMENTS

  • Kindergartens must nurture children’s curiosity, creativity and desire to learn and offer challenges based on the children’s interests, knowledge and skills. The Kindergarten Act, § 2.
  • Playing and learning in the kindergarten shall be pleasurable activities stimulating the children’s curiosity, motivation and need to find out of things and developing their creativity. Meld.St.24 (2012-2013), The kindergarten in the Future.
  • The kindergarten shall offer a learning environment that supports and challenges children’s curiosity and wish to learn and thus establishes a good base for lifelong learning. Meld. St. 24 (2008-2009), Quality in the kindergarten.
  • The children’s curiosity, creativity and thirst for knowledge shall be acknowledged, stimulated and used as a basis for their learning processes. Framework Plan for Kindergarten 2017, page 22.

Menning is not only interested in what is written about curiosity in these four documents. He finds it equally important to study what is not written.

“The idea about curiosity being a part of children’s life and that it is a value in its own right, is not visible in the documents,” he tells.

He believes the strong emphasis on curiosity as a tool for learning might lead to a situation where the understanding of curiosity as basically human and childlike will become increasingly distant. Even the social aspect of curiosity as a driving force that brings people together, might end up in the background.

Another aspect of curiosity which also is absent, are the possible negative consequences of curiosity. Menning believes that is due to the fact that we basically think of curiosity as a useful human feature.

“All the documents are filled with nice words, but reality is far more complex. The meaning of this term in everyday life, has to be determined in every single situation, a responsibility the kindergarten teachers have to deal with,” he points out.

Since Menning sent his article to be printed, the Norwegian Framework Plan he studied has been replaced by a new one. According to Menning the new plan is shorter, and whenever curiosity is mentioned, it is as part of quotations from the Kindergarten Act.

“It means that the new plan and the term within are more oriented towards a practice-oriented interpretation. And the practitioner has attained a much bigger responsibility. Thus, it has become even more important that staff in the kindergartens reflect upon their own understanding of the term,” he concludes.