Supporting Early Literacy by Nurturing Children’s Curiosity
By Dr. Amanda Sullivan & Dr. Amanda Strawhacker
Intellectual curiosity is the act of asking questions with the purpose of learning something new. It is characterized by an insatiable thirst to figure something out, and the intrinsic motivation to find out answers to the unknown. Above all, intellectual curiosity is characterized by the joy of learning and discovery.
Developmentalist Jean Piaget recognized the importance of curiosity as a foundation for early learning, referring to children as “little scientists.” Since Piaget’s time, many researchers have indeed found correlations between curiosity and learning (if you missed it, check out our previous blog post where we deeply explored the link between curiosity and academic achievement in K-12!). Research has shown, for example, that greater curiosity is associated with greater kindergarten reading and math academic achievement.
For the voracious readers out there, it may be no surprise that curiosity and literacy go hand in hand. After all, books allow children a way to explore the unknown, to answer their questions about the world, and imagine fantastical possibilities for themselves. By supporting young children’s curiosity and wonder, educators and caregivers are also supporting a child’s desire to read – even before they can actually do so on their own!
Curious Kids = Enthusiastic Readers
Curious kids may be more intrinsically motivated to read, write, and hone their literacy skills as a way to gain new knowledge and experiences to satiate their curiosity. Developmental psychologist Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D. explains that “curious children spend time reading and acquiring knowledge because they sense a gap between what they know and what they want to know.”
Curiosity is a driving force when it comes to early literacy. Research demonstrates strong relationships between curiosity and emergent literacy, mental flexibility, and the ability to retain and recall information in five-year-olds.
Supporting curiosity in young children through early exposure to books is critical to reading success as children grow up. There is a great deal of research demonstrating the importance of reading to young children and its link to a child’s ability to read well independently in the future. In addition to supporting phonemic awareness, introducing new vocabulary, and building early fluency, reading together with children grows their concentration, imagination, and most importantly, their special bond with you. Forming early positive experiences around books and reading will help young children find joy in making discoveries and answering questions they are curious about through reading.
PebbleGo and PebbleGo Next: Tools to Support Literacy & Spark Curiosity
In addition to reading traditional books, other texts like online resources, e-books, and databases can be a useful way to help support children’s curiosity, while also developing their literacy skills. Although nothing can replace the special experience of looking for a physical book at the library with young kids, sometimes turning to online research is a faster solution when children are curious about a very specific animal or scientific phenomenon. This is where resources like PebbleGo come in handy. PebbleGo is a curricular content hub specifically designed for K-2 students. It is packed with informational articles, ready-made activities, and literacy supports for students of all abilities. Whether it is sharks, their home state, or the weather, PebbleGo offers a safe resource for young children to explore anything (and just about everything) they are curious about, all while honing their early literacy skills.
PebbleGo supports early literacy development by providing engaging articles at a reading level that is appropriate for K-2 readers. Every sentence is carefully written to be at the right level for comprehension and engagement for early and emerging readers. Additionally, each article is read by real voice actors modeling correct pronunciation and fluency, and includes text highlighting for readers of all abilities to follow along.
When kids move beyond 2nd grade, they can move on to PebbleGo Next which provides a natural next step for 3rd-5th grade students. PebbleGo Next includes articles that are aligned to state and national standards with a familiar, yet age-appropriate, experience, and interface.
Practical Tips for Supporting Early Literacy & Curiosity
So how exactly can educators use tools like PebbleGo, along with books, hands-on activities, and classroom strategies, to effectively encourage curiosity and foundational literacy skills? There are a few simple strategies and activities educators can try:
Letting children’s curiosity guide book choice - What are children asking questions about, observing, or imagining? Use these to help guide book selections for read-alouds and library trips. Not sure where to start? Check your local school district, book publisher, or library website for summer reading challenges and age-specific book lists, like this one from Boston Public Schools.
Encouraging children to ask and answer questions - Create a culture that celebrates not knowing the answer and values asking authentic questions. Encourage children to ask questions and find opportunities for them to research the answers using digital resources like PebbleGo, or traditional print sources.
Encouraging skepticism - Encourage children to be skeptics! Suggest that they seek multiple sources of information when answering the questions they are curious about. PebbleGo’s brand new “Read More” option can help by providing two read-aloud eBooks connected to each article in PebbleGo Animals and PebbleGo Science modules. These e-books will help support children’s intellectual curiosity, and can also provide additional reading opportunities.
Creating “curiosity collections” - Creating “curiosity collections'' can be a wonderful hands-on addition to other strategies for supporting curiosity. Young children can gather and collect objects they are curious about (for example, leaves found outside; seashells on a beach, etc.) in order to observe details, compare similarities & differences, and ask questions.. Older students can make even more complex collections of artifacts such as minerals, fossils, bird feathers, and more to research with books and databases like PebbleGo or PebbleGo Next. Integrate literacy by inviting children to draw and label sketches of their creations, and look for reference texts with visual examples to help identify their newfound wonders!
Starting an “I Wonder…” box in the classroom - For early and mid elementary students, teachers may wish to start an “I Wonder” box in the classroom for children to drop in the questions, ideas, and hypotheses that pop into their head throughout the day. This practice will value the questions children are curious about without derailing the activity at hand by falling into a question rabbit hole. Then, find time to explore these questions that children are wondering about by researching answers at the library, through interviews, or using school-safe databases such as PebbleGo or PebbleGo Next. These research sessions can be done individually, in small groups/partners, during a writers workshop, or as a whole-class discussion. Having a regular time set aside each week to pull a question out of the “I Wonder…” box can be a wonderful addition to a normal weekly schedule.
Want to learn more about supporting early literacy and curiosity? Check out the following helpful resources:
PebbleGo and Pebble Go Next (Need help getting started? Check out these YouTube tutorials)
Scholastic: How to Use Books to Spark Your Child’s Curiosity
13 Summer Reading Programs Where Kids Can Earn Free Books, Gift Cards & More
Did you know this is the fourth post in a series on intellectual curiosity? If you missed one of our past blog posts check them out for more resources and tips:
Supporting Young Children’s Intellectual Curiosity: What it Is and Why It Matters
Intellectual Curiosity & Academic Performance in K-5 and Beyond
Curious to learn more? Let us know what you want to see on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook using @CapstonePub and #PebbleGo and #PGCuriosity. Be sure to tag the authors of this blog post too!
Dr. Amanda Sullivan - Twitter @AASully, Instragram: @keikisullivan
Dr. Amanda Strawhacker - Twitter @ALStrawhacker, Instagram: @ALStrawhacker
Together: Twitter @theDrsAmanda