Fostering Curiosity and Creativity in Youth

April 21, 2022

As humans, we are born curious. We are like mini scientists driven to make sense of the world around us through observation, play and exploration. 

This innate and undeniable sense of curiosity as children nurtures our creativity and imagination and makes us receptive to learning. But, as we begin to gain more and more knowledge and enter into environments where information is structured and organized for us, many of us lose this sense of curiosity. We become constrained by our own thought patterns and find it increasingly more challenging to remain curious and think differently and creatively.

In today’s innovation-driven economy, the ability to remain curious and think creatively is vital to our success. Curiosity leads to creativity, and creativity leads to innovation. And in addition to being a core competency in the 21st-century, research shows that creativity is beneficial to the positive development and well-being of youth. Youth who are encouraged to be creative tend to cope better with stress, are more self-aware (Autry & Walker, 2011), have more advanced life and social skills (Crow, 2008) and feel more connected to their community (Burnard, 2007).

So, as educators and parents, how can we continue to foster curiosity and creative thinking in youth? Here are our top tips:

Adopt STEM-based learning.

STEM exposure and experiences are among the best and more effective ways to develop human skills, such as creativity, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence. Find ways to bring more STEM learning activities into your classroom or home. You can start by visiting the Actua Academy for a curated list of activities, resources and events to advance STEM learning.

Let students take an active role in shaping their education.

As part of Actua’s National Girls program, we discovered that when girls take an active role in shaping their education, they feel more empowered and become more confident, capable and informed leaders. With this in mind, try letting your students or your child take ownership over their learning by offering them choices and identifying problems/issues that are important and relevant to them (Zhou, 2012). The goal is to encourage them to identify and implement creative thinking strategies rather than teach creativity itself (Hargrove, 2012).

Encourage play.

Play is essential for maintaining curiosity and developing creativity. Research also demonstrates that hands-on learning and exploration maximize learning, particularly when compared to more passive learning methods such as reading or listening (Varelas et al., 2014). To encourage play, consider taking learning outside or into a new environment, let kids get messy and don’t be afraid to let them get bored. Boredom has benefits. When kids are bored, they must use their imagination and get creative (Miller, n.d.). Lastly, don’t be afraid of video games. Video games that spur kids to be creative and build, like Minecraft, are great for fostering creativity and innovation.

Consider project-based learning.

Project-based learning helps make learning meaningful, relevant and fun. Consider giving your students or children a real-life project related to a particular STEM-related topic (Hanif et al., 2019) that challenges them and encourages them to use their imagination. It’s best to work with them to identify a problem and then ask them to take steps to solve it. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are excellent for sparking project ideas.

Ask more questions!

Asking questions is key to developing independence and critical thinking. Consider asking your students or child more “what” and “why” questions to help maintain their curiosity, reflect on their learning, and conceive new and exciting ways of doing things. Open-ended questions are also great for promoting divergent thinking which generates a variety of ideas and solutions to a problem (i.e. “How could we make housing more affordable?” “What could we do to produce less plastics?). Alternatively, when your student or child asks you a question, don’t just answer. Encourage them to figure out the answer with you.

Focus on the process, not the outcome.

While grades and outcome-based learning play a major role in our current education system, focusing on the process of a project versus the project’s outcome can be highly beneficial to a student’s or your child’s development. When students are too focused on performance and grades, they are less likely to take risks, be creative and think outside the box (Thomsen, 2013). Educators and parents can encourage their students or children to take risks, fail and learn from mistakes by praising the process and effort, not the outcome or result.

Final Thoughts

While we don’t know what our future jobs will be or what challenges we may face, we do know that maintaining a sense of curiosity and having an ability to think creatively will be vital to our success in just about everything we do. Join us in keeping the curiosity of our youth alive by adopting a few of the tips listed above. We also encourage you to visit our Learning Hub for a curated list of curiosity and creativity-building activities, resources and events.