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Why “Why?” is a good thing

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Curiosity may not have worked out well for the cat but it's a good thing when teaching children how to read and do maths.

And for children from poorer communities, curiosity is even more important for higher academic achievement than for children from more well-off backgrounds, and may serve as a potential target of intervention to close the poverty associated achievement gap.

According to the University of Michigan, children who have developed a wide range of socio-emotional skills are generally more successful when they start school. These skills include invention, imagination, persistence, attentiveness to tasks, as well as the ability to form relationships and manage feelings.

Most current early learning interventions focus on improving a child's effortful control which includes their ability to concentrate or control impulses. Very few interventions aim to cultivate curiosity in young children.

Data for the current study were drawn from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort. This nationally representative population-based study sponsored by the US Department of Education has followed thousands of children since their birth in 2001. Their parents were interviewed during home visits and the children were assessed when they were nine months and two years old, and again when they entered preschool and kindergarten. In 2006 and 2007, the reading and math skills and behavior of 6200 of these children then in kindergarten were measured.

Curiosity was found to be as important as effortful control in promoting reading and math academic achievement at kindergarten age. This was especially true for children who showed an eagerness to learn new things. The relationship between a child's curiosity and academic achievement was not related to a child's gender or levels of effortful control.

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.

Children growing up in well off households tend to have greater access to resources which encourage reading and maths learning whereas those from poorer communities did not.

The results suggest that the promotion of curiosity may be a valuable intervention target to foster early academic achievement, with particular advantage for children in poverty.


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