Foster carers; like everyone involved in the provision of fostering services understand that the ultimate point of all their endeavours is to work to secure the best outcomes for vulnerable youngsters in the care system. And it appears, from an interesting piece of research produced in America, that what we should be fostering is a real sense of curiosity in children. And for all those whose professional focus is very much on disadvantaged children here is an interesting fact. Pupils who frequently ask questions are getting better results – especially those from poorer backgrounds. It seems curious children simply do better. Part of a US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Michigan involved investigating curiosity in 6,200 children.
What is particularly interesting is the discovery that it’s the curious pupils from poorer, disadvantaged backgrounds that are getting better results. And these kinds of backgrounds will be all too familiar with foster carers. The researchers measured curiosity levels at three key stages: when the children were babies, toddlers and preschoolers. The method was to use parental visits in conjunction with questionnaires. In one finding aimed at grappling with the achievement gap between poorer and richer children, the strongest link between curiosity and performance was shown by disadvantaged youngsters. Dr Prachi Shah was the study’s lead researcher. He is a developmental and behavioural paediatrician and an assistant research scientist based working at Michigan University. His view is –
“Promoting curiosity in children, especially those from environments of economic disadvantage, may be an important, under-recognised way to tackle the achievement gap. Promoting curiosity is a foundation for early learning that we should be emphasising more when we look for academic achievement.”
We should learn from nature.
Humans have often been poor at observing lessons from nature – and taking a lead from what is seen. The most obvious point is that children are born with an innate sense of curiosity. The sheer number of questions a toddler can ask can seem bewildering – something experienced by all parents – including foster parents! This is entirely natural and one of the fundamental methods adopted by humans to learn. As far back as 2007, it was noted by researchers monitoring questions asked by children aged between 14 months and 5 years, they asked an average of one hundred and seven questions an hour. At his peak, one child was found to be asking questions at the rate of three a minute. Susan Engel is a leading international authority on children’s curiosity. She is also a professor of developmental psychology at Williams College in Massachusetts. Engel has found that once children start school, this innate questioning all but disappears. When monitoring classroom questions, her team discovered that the younger children in a US elementary school only asked between 2 and 5 questions over a 2 hour period. Worse, as youngsters got older, they virtually gave up asking questions altogether. In one two hour session, a group of ten and eleven-year-olds did not ask their teacher a single question. Engel stated –
“When you visit schools in many parts of the word it can be difficult to remember they are full of active, intellectual children because no one is talking about their inner mental lives. How well they behave, and how they perform seem much more important to many people in the educational communities. Often educational bureaucracies have shunted curiosity to the side.” It seems that many teachers are focusing on learning and behaviour at the most of encouraging raw curiosity.
Foster carers can play a big part in promoting creativity.
Changing the environment of children can lead to some surprising results. A nursery school in Bristol recently decided to take away most of the conventional toys for two- year olds. These were replaced with random and interesting objects such as pots and pans, computers, cardboard boxes, old phones, keys and even old kettles. The children were enthralled by the objects which triggered rich imaginary play – as well as questions about individual objects. The headteacher, Matt Caldwell, says that both parents and teachers have noticed a noticeable rise in creativity and levels of conversation amongst the children. Matt Caldwell –
“What children love is to copy what adults are doing with objects. What people and objects do makes them curious about their world. School kills curiosity. When do children get to ask questions about things that interest them? As soon as they are at primary school they have to shut up and learn. It’s not the fault of teachers. They have so many targets to meet.”
These tendencies, unsurprisingly, are carried forward into adult life. Businesses are recognising that curiosity is much more important to the performance of a company that has been previously thought. When curiosity is stimulated, humans will think more deeply and rationally about decisions. This leads to more creative solutions. It also tends to lead to more collaborative behaviour and better communication.
What foster carers can do.
It would be a good thing at this point to celebrate the memory of Lewis Carroll – one of our foremost writers. And foster carers should acquaint their children with his imaginative writings. This Renaissance man was an English author, logician, photographer and mathematician. He is best known for his books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and its sequel Through the Looking Glass. These are celebrations of the cerebral and surreal underpinned by a pervasive sense of what it is to be curious. Indeed, one of the most famous quotes in all literature triggered by Alice in response to her many and bizarre experiences is –
“Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried, Alice.
So foster carers need to be ready to encourage and celebrate the curiosity of the children and young people they look after. And the more questions they ask – all the research shows – the better.
Fostering is all about building enduring relationships. Promoting curiosity should lead to many rich and stimulating conversations between foster carers and their charges. And for all young children, the importance of play cannot be overlooked. For more information visit: https://www.scholastic.com/parents/family-life/parent-child/how-to-encourage-free-play.html
Foster with Rainbow Fostering – rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted – and start an amazing journey.
Rainbow is looking to recruit new foster carers in London, Hampshire, Birmingham and Manchester. There is a very real shortage of foster carers across the and every day more children and young people are coming into care. Our organisation works hard to provide the very best in training and support. We like to think anyone fostering with Rainbow can develop their career with us in any direction they like. There is a demand for people who have the skills to foster teenagers. Carers are needed to offer homes for mother and baby placements. It’s also incredibly important there are enough foster carers to look after sibling groups and keep brothers and sisters together.
We know foster parents – just like children, come in all shapes, sizes and varieties. This means we have foster parents who are single/divorced/married – as well as couples who live together – with or without children. Rainbow Fostering also has same-sex couples fostering children and young people. Our LGBT+ foster carers make a tremendous contribution to our community of carers here at Rainbow.
All Rainbow, all our foster carers receive a FREE subscription to FosterTalk magazine. This is an excellent reference containing interesting and important information about the many different aspects of fostering. We always strive to place our youngster in foster homes which will reflect their own background and cultural heritage. We are always looking to find potential foster carers drawn from all the different communities that make up our diverse society.
Rainbow is now recruiting carers in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Hampshire. Call us today on 020 8427 3355 or our National Line – 0330 311 2845.
Visit these pages of ours for more useful information: http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/frequent-asked-questions/ and http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/complex-needs/