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Foster carers should encourage curiosity

Foster carers encourage curiosity

Foster carers should value curiosity

Foster carers should do all they can to encourage the children living with them to be curious. This might sound trite or a commonplace to most: nothing to be given much thought. But there is research emerging that indicates this is far from the case. Curiosity, we are told, killed the cat but such a fatal outcome is certainly not the case in relation to the developing mind. It’s a paradox that few of us muse on curiosity. Why should we? Perhaps we don’t because in itself it feels low key and slips under the collective radar. As a term, It doesn’t prompt an immediate response, probably as it lacks the emotional quality of, say, anger. But if we think about it, our modern world would simply not exist in the form it does were humans not fundamentally curious creatures. The invention of fire and then just about everything else, has been a response to the inherent quality of curiosity in us all. And, after all, it was curiosity that led us to explore and populate most of the globe. It has led us to mountain tops and ocean depths. 

We are curious beings from the day we are born – a state of being that continues for the rest of our lives. And nearly all of us – apart from the most hard-bitten atheist – are curious about some kind of after-life. Indeed, all world religions provide their own account of some kind of life beyond the present one. Curiosity, then, is perhaps the defining human quality. It’s odd that in our age of technological marvels – all the result the what could be termed the ‘curiosity continuum’ – this defining quality is being suffocated in our schools. 

Children are full of awe and wonder at the world. They are nothing if not curious. Most parents – including foster carers – will know a toddler in the course of a day will ask a limitless number of questions. And this can easily have sent the mind of adult reeling by the time they put their head on the pillow. Past research from 2007 revealed that children aged fourteen months to five years found that on average, children ask 107 questions in an hour. At his peak, one particular child was asking three questions a minute. Such behaviour is clearly hard-wired into humans. Sadly, many children who come into foster care will be from environments where they have been neglected. This will have on their instinct for curiosity. Most likely it will have been quashed. And this is why it is imperative such children are found loving foster family homes. Family life is where curiosity can be nurtured. Foster children are almost always several laps behind their more fortunate peers in this regard. Foster carers will be doing an enormous amount of good if they embrace and celebrate the natural curiosity of the children they care for. And this is especially the case because we are living through a paradox: schools have been discouraging curiosity. This has to be challenged – especially as it has been found pupils who are encouraged to ask a lot of questions achieve better results. Most significant of all, this applied to children from less well-off homes. 

Foster a thirst for curiosity.

The ‘Hungry Mind’ was written by Professor Susan Engel. She is a leading international authority on the subject of curiosity in children. Her research has found that questioning falls away dramatically once children start school. When monitoring classroom questions, her team found the youngest children in an American elementary school asked only between 2 and 5 questions measured over a two hour period. This decline would interest anyone involved with the provision of foster care. Somewhat disturbingly it was found that as children got older, they gave up asking questions altogether. Susan Engel is based at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts where she is professor of developmental psychology. Her belief is that – 

“When you visit schools in many parts of the world 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.”

Foster carers and all parents here can rest assured this has started to be noted. The educational establishment has for many years  been besotted with learning, tests and targets. Many think this looks clearly to have been to the detriment of curiosity. Matt Caldwell is the headteacher of Ilminster Avenue Nursery school in Bristol. His view – 

“School kills curiosity. When do children get to ask questions about things that interest them? As soon as they are any primary school they have to shut up and learn. It’s not the fault of the teachers. They have so many targets to meet.”

Caldwell has set about creating areas for children to play that is filled with cardboard boxes and objects from the ‘grown-up’ world. These are things like old phones and computers. This should be great news to ordinary mums and dads as well as foster parents. It seems as if there is something true in the old joke about children of a certain age preferring to play with the box their toys were packed in, rather than the toys themselves: foster carers take note! Caldwell is convinced that children like to play with such things precisely because they are associate them with the observable world of adults. This seems to fire their imagination and curiosity in ways conventional toys do not. Paul Howard-Jones is the professor of neuroscience and education at Bristol University. He has observed children playing with these ‘toys’ and feels humans learn more from novel situations which seem to drive their curiosity. He says – 

“Children should be prompted and encourages to ask questions even though that can be challenging for a teacher, we do need to find some time for questions during the day. There is not enough time in schools for creativity and following up on curiosity.”

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Foster a new mindset.

Not only do we appear to have instituted measures that have hampered the natural curiosity of children,  but we have also created a culture inimical to its development. This will affect the general wellbeing of children because it conflicts with their essential natures. Perhaps the powers that be, need to rethink their points of ‘educational reference’ entirely. The philosopher-historian Yuval Noah Harari makes it clear that current thinking is in all probability outmoded. We should be encouraging creativity and curiosity in our schools. Many if not most of the traditional academic skills are likely to become obsolete in the next few years.

We need to be rethinking on a fundamental level what it is to be human. We are at a crossroads. Our technological advancement has proceeded at such a rate that the full comprehension of the world it has created eludes us. And it looks like we are going to be denied the time to even start to recognise this. Things are simply changing too fast. Most people are unaware of the growing power of algorithms that started by supporting our behaviour, and now in an unimaginably short space of time, they are shaping it. It will not be long before they are directing it. Put Artificial Intelligence into the mix and it soon becomes clear that the government and the educational establishment seem to be pointing in totally the wrong direction. It is as if they are modern-day Luddites without being aware of why. The one creed they adhere to is that of Charles Dicken’s schoolmaster – Gradkind -who thought children were simply to be filled up with facts. Such thinking is bizarre because the same government is enthralled by the digital technology that is making its thinking look to be more suitable to the Victorian age. 

Many think we have an education system that is pressurising the people it is meant to serve. Growing numbers of young people – including foster children –  are suffering from mental health issues. Add those who are suffering from obesity at a time when school playing fields are being sold off, and things are starting to look incoherent. And far from being prioritised; as Yuval Noah Harari would want, creative subjects are becoming less accessible.

The one thing we are likely to be able to predict about the future is that it will be different from how we can imagine. Most impossible of all to predict will be the psychological pressures and changes that will be working on us. In short, the humans of the relatively near future will be very different from us. If we organise our education system now and ask some fundamental questions of it, we can at least expect we might be able; was it possible to move forward in time, to at least recognise our future selves. Harari thinks that the key skills that will be required as the 21st century progresses will be emotional intelligence and the ability to cope with rapid change. Because the natural world will also be altering through climate change, many also think psychological resilience will be essential. 

Fostering a different approach to communication.

This might all seem a bit depressing. But wait: it does show that anyone with the responsibility for a child can play a defining part in their development. Foster carers, parents, and anyone with the right motivation, can encourage and support the natural curiosity children have. And that’s a great opportunity for foster carers to communicate and build relationships with the children they are caring for.

As a widely respected provider of fostering services – rated ‘Outstanding in all areas’ by Ofsted – Rainbow strives to continually improve the outcomes we deliver to the children and young people we find loving homes for. Our core values lie at the heart of all we do. Everything is geared to ensuring our children have the best possible chances and a bright future. We doing everything to support and develop our foster carers to guarantee they continue to build their professional skills. This means they are in the best position to qualify for enhanced rates of pay that go with providing the very best care possible. 

If we sound like the kind of agency you are looking for, call now on 020 8427 3355 or use our National Line 0330 311. Fostering isn’t for everyone: it is a challenging job. But when done well, it can be rewarding beyond words. 

We like to keep our carers updated with all that is going on in the fostering world. We have a news section on our website and regularly post informative – sometimes thought-provoking blogs. Please feel free always to contact us with any feedback or suggestions. And our latest blog recommendation

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