"Whas'at? Whas'at?"

— A question from a 3-year-old boy asked of his mother over and over as they walked through the zoo

Children are such curious creatures. They explore, question, and wonder, and by doing so, learn. From the moment of birth, likely even before, humans are drawn to new things. When we are curious about something new, we want to explore it. And while exploring we discover. By turning the light switch on and off over and over again, the toddler is learning about cause and effect. By pouring water into a dozen different-shaped containers and on the floor and over clothes, the 4-year-old is learning pre-concepts of mass and volume. A child discovers the sweetness of chocolate, the bitterness of lemon, the heat of the radiator, and the cold of ice.

The Cycle of Learning

If a child stays curious, he will continue to explore and discover. The 5-year-old finds tadpoles in a tiny pool of mud on the playground. This discovery gives him pleasure. When he experiences the joy of discovery, he will want to repeat his exploration of the pond. [Pleasure leads to repetition.] Each day, he and his classmates return. The tadpoles grow legs. [Repetition leads to mastery.] The children learn that tadpoles become frogs—a concrete example of a complex biological process. Mastery—in this case, understanding that tadpoles become frogs—leads to confidence. Confidence increases a willingness to act on curiosity—to explore, discover, and learn. "Can we bring tadpoles into the class? How do other baby animals grow up? Why don't dog babies lose their tails?" This positive cycle of learning is fueled by curiosity and the pleasure that comes from discovery and mastery.
© Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD and the ChildTrauma Academy. For more information about the work of the ChildTrauma Academy, please visit ChildTrauma.org.


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