Fostering Wonder and Curiosity for Science and Research at Home

Little Girl in Wonder watching a hose spray water

How great God is and how great is His creation! Every time I gaze at the stars, scan the canopy of heaven, inhale the beauty of the ocean, explore underwater sea creatures, touch the soft fur of my favorite canine, or marvel at a spider’s orb web, I gasp and declare that God’s creation shouts His glory.

I am awed by His handiwork, wrapped up in His beauty, and enveloped in His love as He displays His love through the gift of nature. We were created by God and placed in a garden among plants and creatures. Nature is the place where we flourish as we are nourished by His love and beauty in the created order. We learn about our Creator through the book of nature (see Romans 1). And so, as an educator, I’ve always given value to building upon the natural design of the child which is consistently awe, wonder, and curiosity in relationship to the created order.

Cultivating Awe, Wonder and Curiosity through Research

As an example of how the wonder of nature can be infused in education, my second grade teacher decided to set up a glass aquarium in the back of the room and placed a lovely reptilian-looking creature inside. Next to the aquarium, lay several intriguing books on amphibians and reptiles and the sign read:

Is this a frog or a toad? Please observe the creature and read the books and come to a decision. Place your vote in the box. The answer will be revealed on Friday.

As a seven-year-old, I was drawn like a magnet to this fascinating activity. The second I finished my assignments, I ran to the aquarium to observe the creature. I browsed through the books, examined all the photos, and read some text. Finally, at the end of Thursday, I dropped my “ballot” in the box slot: frog.

The answer? Toad.

How did some of the other kids know the answer? They read the texts more carefully. They knew it must be a toad because of its rougher, drier skin. If it was a frog, its skin would be moist. This information showed up in the captions and narrative of the displayed books. If I had worked a little harder, I would have found the answer too; however, I never forgot some of the differences between frogs and toads and never forgot the wonder and joy of that assignment.

Show, Not Tell – Practical Teaching Tips

Now let’s apply this wonder . . . ful learning approach to the homeschool classroom:

Instead of taking the didactic approach and saying, “Today we will learn the three differences between a frog and a toad,” and then explaining those differences, ask questions instead:

  • Is this a frog or a toad?
  • How do you know you are correct?
  • Can you verify that you are correct?

Then, the students begin their observations and close investigation through research. You as the homeschool teacher withhold what you know until your children conduct their research at home through observation, reading, and investigation.

The didactic approach — telling answers — makes the child dependent upon the teacher for information, whereas, asking questions and doing research to verify hypotheses creates an independent learner who continues to develop his reading skills and competency for research at home. The topic, nature, is the God-given compelling context, interest, or entry point that magnetically pulls the children toward asking and researching questions due to the awe, wonder, and curiosity surrounding nature. Consider this as you craft your writing objectives for the new school year.

Prayerful Reflection

  • Lord Jesus, how am I capitalizing on awe, wonder, and curiosity in nature to ignite my child’s interest in the created order, in reading and research at home . . . and ultimately in You, the Creator of it all?
  • Am I teaching my child to read closely and verify information from multiple resources (books, articles, journals, library research, personal observations, interviews) in all areas of study so that he is confident in what he believes to be true?
  • Lord Jesus, am I cultivating dependent or independent learners in my household?
  • Good Teacher, when I teach, do I primarily tell or do I ask questions and then listen to better understand the way you have created my child’s mind . . . his interests, his curiosities, and those aspects of nature that cause Him to stand in awe and worship of You?

 

Lord, help me to teach in such a way that I cultivate in my child’s heart a desire to ask questions, seek answers, and ready himself to provide rationale for what he believes to be true in all areas of his study. Teach me how to utilize my child’s natural interests to ignite his independent research skills so that his academic habits are such that he naturally seeks compelling evidence and rationale for his beliefs. Amen.

June Hetzel, Ph.D., Dean, School of Education, Biola University