Using media to supplement children’s innate curiosity


Two days ago I was sitting in our kitchen working on my computer when my daughter came and told me something I never thought I would hear.

“Dad, did you know that there’s such a thing as a narwhal with two horns?” she asked.

No, I did not know that. In fact, turns out there are a lot of things about narwhals that I don’t know, but I soon found out because before I knew it she had me looking up photos of narwhals online, including a search for an apparently rare two-horned narwhal. Did you know that narwhals are so rare that they are sometimes called the “unicorns of the sea”? It took the curiosity of a first grader to teach me this.

Kids seem to be naturally curious, and what we do with that curiosity seems to make a big difference. In a study of 215 4-year-olds, researchers found that kids who expressed interest in science-related subjects at age four were more likely to use media to seek out science-related information at ages 6 and 7. These science-related media activities (reading and watching TV), in turn, stimulated more science-related questions.

In other words, when kids express an interest in science, they tend to turn toward media to help answer their questions. And what they find in the media tends to inspire even more science-related questions.

Now, here’s my moment of regret. After just a couple of minutes of looking up information about narwhals on Saturday, I went right back to my work. Apparently, my “deadline” was more important than time spent helping my daughter learn more about something cool. But based on what we know about media parenting by now—that parents can help kids learn more from the media than they ever could alone—I’m going to make it up this evening by sharing with her a fact I learned online today about narwhals.

Did you know that narwhal tusks can breathe in seawater, giving the narwhal information about the water’s temperature and saltiness? Neither did I. But I do now, and I can’t wait to get home to tell my daughter.

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