Recently, I was talking with a couple of service providers taking the online Keys to Interactive Parenting Course (KIPS). They both found learning the parenting assessment’s item on promoting exploration and curiosity particularly challenging. This item was a late addition in the development of the parenting assessment, and the psychometrics showed that it complemented the other 11 KIPS items. Long after KIPS was finalized, we came upon the work of Todd Kashdan at George Mason University, which further reinforced the importance of including this item in assessing parenting. My thinking about exploration and curiosity has been deeply influenced by Kashdan’s book entitled: Curious: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life (2009, Harper Collins). Kashdan argues that curiosity is among the most valuable of traits, because if one is curious, then one has the ability to learn and adapt. He further states, “Children are born with boundless curiosity.” (p.7). It is our upbringing, schooling and society that constrain this birthright. He also stresses that play provides a safe opportunity to explore. This reinforces the use of play as the focus of the KIPS structured parent-child observation.
Parenting and Curiosity
Curious people are open to and will best benefit from new experiences. According to Kashdan, one can mold curiosity into one’s personality. He reviews several qualities of curiosity: intensity, frequency, durability, breadth and depth. Most importantly, curiosity is malleable. Experience and relationships can increase or decrease curiosity. This is where parenting comes in to play. Knowing that experience and relationships can influence curiosity points to the critical role of parenting. Including how the caregiver promotes exploration and curiosity is therefore valuable when assessing parenting. (Image:FreeDigitalImages.com)
Personally, I felt that my early schooling in the 1960s and 1970s worked very hard to stifle my curiosity. So it is my distinct pleasure to serve as the evaluator of an inquiry math and science program, a collaboration of the Allentown School District and the Da Vinci Science Center. Observing K-8 classrooms using inquiry based instruction that supports exploration and curiosity is extremely rewarding. I know I am seeing quality instruction when I feel jealous of the students being well-supported in their exploration and curiosity. Learning math and science can be fun! Not only are the children learning science and math, but the important trait of curiosity is being nourished. The skills we look for in a good inquiry-based teacher and a parent are remarkably similar. The goal of both is for the child to develop the habits of mind that eventually allow them to be thoughtful, resilient, and productive members of society.Assessing Parents' Promotion of Exploration and Curiosity
Looking more deeply into the KIPS parenting assessment item, how does it measure how well a parent is promoting exploration and curiosity? At the upper most range we are assessing how well the parent supports the child in being curious and actively exploring. Asking open-ended questions is a good way to promote exploration and support curiosity. “I wonder how this toy works?” or “How else might we build a tower?” Not all support for curiosity needs to be verbal. Actively engaging with a child in exploration and discovery also supports it. Babies and toddlers, in particular, need lots of time to explore and process. So to effectively promote exploration and curiosity, many of us need to slow down and read the child’s cues.
The reason some learners struggle with scoring this KIPS item may be that the construct is nonlinear. As alluded to just above, a parent can show so much enthusiasm for something, and move so fast, that the child cannot keep up and thus becomes discouraged from exploring. In this case the parent would score low in promoting exploration and curiosity. We would call this stifling curiosity. Alternatively, a parent could rarely show any curiosity during the observed interaction, and this too would score low in promoting exploration and curiosity. In the middle of the scoring range are neutral behaviors that neither support nor stifle, or those that inconsistently promote exploration and curiosity. Thus, assessing how well a parent or caregiver supports exploration and curiosity is a bit more challenging than the other KIPS items.
A few KIPS users criticized the scoring of exploration and curiosity as culturally-biased. However, our research doesn’t indicate that any of the subgroups we’ve studied so far show dramatically lower scores on this item. In the world where learning and adapting are important capacities for success, and as Kashdan would argue, promote a fulfilling life, it seems to me that curiosity is a trait that crosses cultural boundaries. However, I am curious to hear what others think, and eager to explore this with you. Please post your comments, so we can explore the subject together.
Parenting Assessment offers a number of benefits for programs, families, and ultimately children. Learn How Parenting Assessment:
1. Documents evidence of parenting outcomes
2. Tailors services to individual parenting strengths and needs
3. Monitors progress and guides service planning
4. Reinforces parenting progress and confidence
5. Serves as a parenting check-up as children develop
6. Shifts staff focus from child to parent-child interactions
7. Offers a common language for staff, families and programs
8. Builds reflective practice during supervision
9. Informs continuous quality improvement for staff and programs