How families can rediscover curiosity in a pandemic

How families can rediscover curiosity in a pandemic

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News A family takes a walk in the rain around Oquirrh Lake in the Daybreak community on Sunday, June 7, 2020. I grew up learning with the tomatoes.

Dad absorbed knowledge the way our garden took in water; he drank it up wherever it came from. Then, like the crooked plants who shared their beefsteak tomatoes with us, he gave back what he learned and more.

Mahatma Gandhi taught to “learn as if you were to live forever.”

It’s a nice thought, if hard to embody when life gets hectic; finishing the school year under COVID-19 circumstances has tossed traditional classrooms beyond our reach and left some of us reeling. If “learning” summons thoughts of the remote classes your kids have grown tired of, or even of traditional classrooms, think again. These perspectives on learning might be as crooked as my old tomato plants were.

The pandemic’s upheaval could help us reach outside the classroom and reconsider our notions of learning: a transformation that settles in as we settle down to embrace our basic instinct of curiosity.

My dad’s classroom had no walls and no restrictions; it was built of intense desire to discover, and frankly, it filled him with wonder.

His classroom sounded like a mustached, diaper-changing businessman learning Italian from CDs as he shuttled us to and from soccer practice. His classroom extended to me as he practiced French with me while we weeded the garden. His classroom exchanged blackboards for our soapy kitchen, where he watched videos on the Ancient Near East while scrubbing dirty countertops, or the bedside table where he studied the Hebrew Bible each night. These lessons weren’t framed by a three-credit class, but learning was a hobby of his, and it made him happy. His curiosity fed mine.

Pursuing hobbies, interests and curiosity enriches our lives and often leads to some of the most valuable and unexpected lessons.

It’s human instinct to imitate behavior, especially for children to copy adults. Children are so driven to mimic and learn from adults that they will even imitate actions that clearly lead to negative consequences, says psychologist Mark Nielsen of the University of Queensland in Australia. This is because “we’re so motivated to do things like those around us and be like those around us.” What about imitating positive actions, like learning habits?

However and whatever we choose to be curious about, research says that a willingness to be full of wonder (and pass it on) pays off. Being a lifelong learner and sharing this curiosity is powerful; lifelong learners are generally happier, healthier and more financially successful. Starting or reviving these habits can enrich our lives and plant precious seeds for those who look up to us.

Here are some perks of being — and raising — lifelong learners :

Lifelong learners have definite financial and workplace advantages. With technology and the world changing as quickly as it does, the ability to learn and adapt are valuable assets. Jeff Cobb, a successful entrepreneur and recognized expert in the fields of education and professional development, pinpoints valuable prospective employees as “curious, motivated and willing to take responsibility for their own learning.” Learning propensity is an asset, and just like anything else it comes from practice, which starts in the home.

Lifelong learning keeps brain cells working well as we age. Research from Walden University shows that whatever form this learning comes in, acquiring new knowledge helps our brains grow healthier. Attention, memory, and problem-solving improve with practice. Casual learning at home, in the backyard or in the car can provide practice for your kids and a foundation for future learning habits.

Walden researchers also found that lifelong learning can help us be happier, improving emotional balance and combating depression. This is especially valuable in fighting the mental declines that often come with aging. Until then the wisdom, perspective and self-fulfillment that come through learning contribute to strong mental and emotional well-being.

“Learning is perhaps one of the most essential abilities and manifestations of human life,” declared a study by the Gerontological Society of America. This study found declines in frustration, fear, and anxiety when regular learning opportunities were implemented for Americans in late adulthood. These opportunities included courses in painting, memoir writing, digital photography, Japanese brush painting and embroidery, but continuous learning of any kind was therapeutic and contributed to resiliency and a stronger sense of self.

Where to start? Likely, you already have.

Think about the last time you learned or tried something new. Think about the last time your kids saw you learn or try something new. The best learning opportunities are often simple, natural and memorable. A couple of minutes is perfect to learn something that piques your curiosity.

Listen to a podcast, watch a documentary or try out an audiobook. Pick up a new hobby or show your kids old ones. Let your kids see you try and fail and try again. Curiosity comes naturally to most kids — and to most adults, too, if it’s given room to grow. Exploring newness together can turn a natural sense of wonder into a lifelong harvest.

Watching my parents take piano lessons was like water for my own curiosity. The classroom for you and your family may be the tennis court or it might be a library. But whether adult or child, brainiac or far from it, these moments and memories are worth making. Curiosity is worth rediscovering.

Anna Tasso is a student from the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University.


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