4 Tips for Raising Curious Kids

Curiosity is like fresh morning breath. Everyone likes to think they have it, but few actually do.


Have your heard about the question Google founder Sergey Brin used to ask during interviews? He would ask these nervous, would-be googlers just this: Could you teach me something complicated I don’t know? Basically, Sergey is saying, “Don’t tell me how curious you are. Show me.

What is Curiosity?

I think of curiosity as having a thirsty brain. I define curiosity as interest + obsession.

Curiosity = Interest + Obsession

Everyone is interested in something, but hardly anyone goes deep with it. Most lack the obsession, the rage to master, that separates the curious from the merely interested.

Why Is Curiosity So Important?

  • It’s LASIK for your mind’s eye. It helps you find and then solve problems. It allows you to see possibilities or solutions others don’t–gold when everything dismisses it as pyrite.

In 1998, Yahoo had the chance to buy Google for $1 million. It saw pyrite. We know how that story turned out.

  • It bears good fruit. When 2 disparate things you’re curious about connect and make babies, awesome things can happen. You can have greater impact on your work and society.

Many of the greats had an insatiable curiosity. When you read about their lives, you can see that their achievements were a natural byproduct of that curiosity: Leonardo da Vinci, Blaise Pascal, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington Carver, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk (and probably just about every other positive change maker ever).

Ashlee Vance writes about how Elon Musk would ask his employees what they were working on in his biography of Musk, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. At first, they thought he was testing them. They soon realized he was learning from them and quickly knew just as much as they did. Elon Musk was using his innate curiosity (and vast intellectual horsepower) to learn from his employees in order to do what perhaps they couldn’t–bring it all together to see the big picture and make it happen.

Here’s the highlight reel:

    • Elon Musk: PayPal (finance), Space-X (rockets), Tesla (electric cars), Powerwall (home power), Solarcity (solar panels), Hyperloop (super fast trains)
    • Steve Jobs: Mac (computer), iPod (music player), iPhone (smart phone), iPad (tablet), Pixar (movies)
    • Benjamin Franklin: Lightning rod, bifocals, Franklin stove, swim fins, odometer, flexible urinary catheter
    • Leonardo da Vinci: Not only a visual artist, but an invented a precursor to the helicopter, the parachute, weapons, scuba gear, and more
  • It breaks you out of your cage. You start thinking out-of-the-box. Take a look at the list of products and inventions. The variety and breadth isn’t from someone who stays in the box. It’s exciting to think of where and the ways curiosity can lead you.
  • It’s fun. A lifelong love of learning and mastery is just plain more fun. My friends know when I get that gleam in my eye. My buddy, Justin, gives me this “uh oh” look (and groan). He knows how I get. I want to read everything about it. I talk incessantly about it. I think about it all. the. time. I think about every component of it. How it came to be. How they make it. How to improve it. How society has been helped or harmed by it.

(I guess you could say I become annoying… I welcome thoughts on how to be curious but not annoying!)

How Do You Teach Curiosity?

Good news is that children are naturally curious. So I view my job more as making sure I don’t take it away from them and instead keep watering it.

  1. Read to your children (or have them read) about different subjects. Animals. Sports. History. Then talk about it deliberately with them (points 2 and 4).
  2. Think about things with dimension. Merge imagination with curiosity. When reading these books, bring the characters to life. How would they sound? How tall are they? How do they smell?
  3. Tinker with things. Look under the hood. Take it apart. Put it back together. Modify it.
  4. Go deep. To do this, ask the right questions. Here’s what I sometimes ask my children when I do nighttime reading “What happened in the story?” “Why did it happen?” “Why did the writer put that in the story?” “Would you write it that way if you were writing the story?” “What do you think will happen next?”

Go Deep.

This is probably the hardest thing and requires some more fleshing out. It’s been said that Bill Clinton can talk about things with endless depth. Elon Musk can as well. Mitt Romney apparently will take the opposite position from you just to see your depth of thought. One of the most important developments in my life, from a spiritual and intellectual perspective, was joining InterVarsity in college. And if you were part of InterVarsity, you’re thinking two words right now:

Inductive Method.

The inductive method is InterVarsity’s way of studying the Bible where you focus on the words in front of you without bringing in outside context (only the ones the reader at the time would have had available). I also apply it to my work and other areas of my life, like how I read to my children. The inductive method is built on 4 levels of analysis, each designed to take you deeper:

  1. Observations. This is not meant to be very deep. Let’s say you’re curious about a bike. On this level, you would mention that the bike is gray, has 1 seat, 2 pedals, 2 wheels, a chain, gears, and a handlebar that swivels. It’s made by Diamond Back. This is the who, what, when, and where level.
  2. Questions. Start formulating your own questions. At this stage, you start asking things like, “why does the handlebar swivel?” “ Why is the chain connected to the back tire?” “Why are there multiple gears and how do they work?” “How do you move the gears?” This is–you guessed it–the how and why level.
  3. Interpretation. This is where you start answering your questions. The handlebar swivels to help you turn. The chain is connected to the back tire for the same reason that your front tire turns — because your pivot point needs to fixed while the front wheel turns, and because the chain is metal, it shouldn’t really swivel with the front wheel. The different-sized gears make for wider or smaller circumferences, which means that the same pedal speed produces a different rate at which the chain revolves around each gear, moving the back wheel it’s connected to at various speeds. The gears don’t move. Rather, the chain is connected to these mechanisms that are in turn connected to these controls on the handlebar by wire, which means that if you move the control, the wire tightens or loosens to a certain length, pulling this mechanism, which in turn moves the chain over a gear.
  4. Application. This is where you ask the deeper questions. This is where innovation occurs. You see how much longer “interpretation” is than “observations” and “questions?” At this point, you pretty much understand how a bike works. To go deep, you should visit levels 1 and 2, but live on levels 3 and 4. Application should be the longest level as you ponder things like: “Is there a better, more seamless way to move the chain over the gears?” “If I were building a bike today, how would I design it?” “What parts are extraneous and what can be designed better?” “What other materials can I use without sacrificing cost, weight, speed, or durability?” “What would the world look like if everyone rode a bike instead of a car? What services would be needed, and what could go away?”

Going deep means just that: going deep. You’re looking to move past the niceties and the trimmings into the structure of things and the reasons behind them. That can sound a little intimidating, but remember what I said earlier: children are innately curious. The groundwork is already laid! All you have to do is prod them past the what and the why and help them realize that the right questions build their own answers.

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