Curiosity sparks preschoolers motivation to learn new things

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Experts say young kids need some information to become interested, but then they often want to learn more on their own

A new study conducted by researchers from Rutgers University explored patterns related to preschoolers' learning and general motivation. It suggests that in order for preschoolers to feel motivated to seek out more information, they need to be introduced to a topic without knowing everything about it.

“There is an infinite amount of information in the real world,” said researcher Jenny Wang. “Yet despite having to learn so much in such a short amount of time, young children seem to learn happily and effectively. We wanted to understand what drives their curiosity.” 

What makes kids interested in learning?

For the study, the researchers had 100 preschoolers participate in various experiments. The team designed books on a variety of topics and analyzed how well the kids understood them and how likely they were to seek out more information on any given topic. 

The study showed that the key for preschoolers to want to learn more is to not be bored or overloaded with information on any subject matter. When they begin to learn about something new that interests them, they’re more likely to be motivated to learn more when not all of the information is revealed right away. 

The researchers also explained that curiosity plays a big role in this. Kids’ interests impact what topics they’re most likely to want to know more about, but staying in that middle ground of knowledge is what sparks them to ultimately seek out more information. 

“Intuitively, curiosity seems to belong to those who know the most, like scientists, and those who know the least, like babies,” said Wang. “But what we found here is quite surprising: it was children in the middle who showed the most interest in learning about contagion, compared to children who knew too little or too much.”

Moving forward, the researchers hope these findings can help parents and educators of preschoolers stay engaged with new material. 

“Ultimately, findings like this will help parents and educators better support children when they actively explore and learn about the world,” Wang said. 

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