Staying Curious: Susan Engel’s “The Hungry Mind”

hungry-mindThe Hungry Mind
The Origins of Curiosity in Childhood

That’s the title of Susan Engel’s new book and it’s about the recent standardized testing mania and how it misses the point about what really matters.

The key thing is the desire to learn. We are born curious – born with a hunger to learn. The book is an exploration of what curiosity is, how it can be measured, how it develops in childhood, and how it can be fostered in school.

The Environment for Learning

Children naturally possess an active interest in knowing more about the world around them. But what begins as a robust trait becomes more fragile over time, and is shaped by experiences with parents, teachers, peers, and the learning environment. Susan Engel highlights the centrality of language and question-asking as crucial tools for expressing curiosity. She also uncovers overlooked forms of curiosity, such as gossip—an important way children satisfy their interest in other people. Although curiosity leads to knowledge, it can stir up trouble, and schools too often have an incentive to squelch it in favor of compliance and discipline.

Leave the Kid Alone: The Importance of Childhood Solitude

Balanced against the interventions of hands-on instructors and hovering parents, Engel stresses the importance of time spent alone, which gives children a chance to tinker, collect, read about the things that interest them, and explore their own thoughts. In addition to providing a theoretical framework for the psychology of curiosity, The Hungry Mind offers educators practical ways to put curiosity at the center of the classroom and encourage children’s natural eagerness to learn.

On WBUR’s Radio Boston, listen to Susan Engel discuss alternatives to high-stakes testing as a means of evaluating children’s skills:

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