Despite American education’s recent mania for standardized tests, testing misses what really matters about learning: the desire to learn in the first place. Curiosity is vital, but it remains a surprisingly understudied characteristic. The Hungry Mind is a deeply researched, highly readable exploration of what curiosity is, how it can be measured, how it develops in childhood, and how it can be fostered in school.
Children naturally possess an active interest in knowing more about the world around them. But what begins as a robust trait becomes more fragile over time, and is shaped by experiences with parents, teachers, peers, and the learning environment. Susan Engel highlights the centrality of language and question-asking as crucial tools for expressing curiosity. She also uncovers overlooked forms of curiosity, such as gossip—an important way children satisfy their interest in other people. Although curiosity leads to knowledge, it can stir up trouble, and schools too often have an incentive to squelch it in favor of compliance and discipline.
Balanced against the interventions of hands-on instructors and hovering parents, Engel stresses the importance of time spent alone, which gives children a chance to tinker, collect, read about the things that interest them, and explore their own thoughts. In addition to providing a theoretical framework for the psychology of curiosity, The Hungry Mind offers educators practical ways to put curiosity at the center of the classroom and encourage children’s natural eagerness to learn.
Susan Engel’s The Hungry Mind, a book which engages in depth with how our interest and desire to explore the world evolves, makes a valuable contribution not only to the body of academic literature on the developmental and educational psychology of children, but also to our knowledge on why and how we learn…The author does a brilliant job connecting a wide range of essential 20th century research on the development of children and turning these insights into a coherent narrative about how children become aware of and interact with their environment…A highly informative but also very enjoyable read.
In The Hungry Mind, Engel draws on the latest social science research and incidents from her own life to understand why curiosity is nearly universal in babies, pervasive in early childhood, and less evident in school…Engel’s most important finding is that most classroom environments discourage curiosity…In an era that prizes quantifiable results, a pedagogy that privileges curiosity is not likely to be a priority.
The Hungry Mind is an exploration of curiosity, including both its origins in infancy and the ways in which it changes and develops over time. Engel considers how education can support or squelch curiosity and makes recommendations for fostering curiosity in children as a way of making them into intrinsically motivated, life-long learners. I know of no other book that investigates the subject in such depth or breadth. It will be of interest to psychologists, parents, teachers, and educational policymakers alike.
Educational achievement is often viewed as a competitive, joyless struggle in which some children get left behind. One fashionable remedy for those stragglers is to inculcate them with more grit, self-control, or resilience. Engel offers a more radical proposal—one that builds on children’s strengths. She reminds us that children are naturally—and deeply—curious. They stare at novelty, point quizzically at the unexpected, and ask for explanations. And children learn best when their curiosity is piqued. Hard-pressed teachers who insist on taking time to nurture children’s delight in uncertainty, suspense, and, mystery will take heart from this eloquent and humane book.
- 232 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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