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The emerging science about children’s brains and how they develop shows that an adult’s drive to succeed socially, academically, and professionally has its roots in self-motivation and curiosity during childhood. Luckily, we all live on a giant, spinning laboratory/playground, planet Earth. Finding fuel for hungry minds is easy and fun.
Soaking up experience
Scientists call a child’s willingness to jump into new and challenging tasks “mastery motivation.” Children with high levels of mastery motivation take pleasure in learning. They’ll push through tough tasks to achieve the joy of accomplishment.
A child’s brain starts soaking up information in the womb and comes out ready for more. Fostering the right kind of curiosity in our children involves little more than providing positive, diverse experiences. Each one is an opportunity for communication, learning, and quality time.
With summer upon us, families around the Mid-South are embarking on adventures in all corners of our planet. From international expeditions to state park day-trips, from exploring museums to doing backyard gardening, we’re digging into the kinds of activities that engage children’s young minds.
Across the map
Any time you leave familiar surroundings, you’ll likely encounter new experiences. Visiting a new city introduces you to novel architecture, quirky accents, and unexpected flavors. Outdoor expeditions introduce children to new plants and animals, and different ways to interact with the natural world. Visiting historic sites deepens their curiosity about the people that came before us. State parks and public farms give children a glimpse of life beyond the city limits.
Breaking through the low clouds and seeing a foreign city for the first time can be a stunning experience at any age. When even we adults are dazzled, just imagine the world-expanding effects on curious children.
Explore your own back yard
Of course, it’s not necessary to leave the country to find new experiences — they’re as close as your own backyard. Introduce your child to planting flowers in the garden. Or take in local attractions like My Big Backyard at the Memphis Botanic Garden, where your child can explore plants, science, nature, and more. Area parks are ready for picnics, farmers markets are spilling over with abundance, and festivals bring fresh experiences to familiar spaces.
Children are born with curiosity, but their desire for new experiences must be fostered, or over time it can dwindle. Luckily, it takes just a little planning to keep your children engaged in new and intellectually nourishing activities. In a city as richly colored and multi-sensory as Memphis, the flow of new experiences just might be endless.
See How They Grow
Developmental tips for your baby
Gear: High-tech baby toys may seem fun, but they’re not necessarily developmentally stimulating. When your six-month-old plays with something that lights up and makes noises, he may try it out a number of times. However, once he understands what the toy does, it usually falls by the wayside, and baby will instead end up playing with the box the toy came in more than the toy itself.
Best Bet: Building blocks or puzzles
Options: Basic toys that promote interaction, encourage pretend play, and foster creativity are much more developmentally stimulating. Provide your baby with plenty of fun options, such as building blocks, nesting containers, and age-appropriate puzzles.
Source: Anne Zachary is an occupational therapist and assistant professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Her book, Retro Baby (American Academy of Pediatrics, publisher), is available at The Booksellers at Laurelwood. • $16.95