We all know kids who started reading (as in full books) at 18 months. Others had the gross motor skills to ditch their training wheels at four. One friend’s son plays Mozart on the piano and devours Harry Potter books. (He’s six.) And while all of these achievements are amazing—and debatably innate as opposed to parent-directed—they’re not necessarily concrete predictors of academic success. Want to know what is? Curiosity.
For a new study conducted at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, pediatricians with expertise in developmental behavior analyzed data collected from 6,200 children over the course of their lives, from nine months old through kindergarten. They conclusively found that “greater curiosity was associated with greater kindergarten reading and math academic achievement.” Regardless of gender or socioeconomic background, added the researchers, “Curiosity may be an important, yet under-recognized contributor to academic achievement. Fostering curiosity may optimize academic achievement at kindergarten.”
Interestingly, the kids’ efforts and their ability to sit still and listen in class had less to do with academic success than you might guess. (PSA to the parents of kids who run around like crazy during circle time: Now is your cue to rejoice.) Explains Science Daily: “U-M researchers factored in another important known contributor to academic achievement known as ‘effortful control,’ or the ability to stay focused in class. They found that even independent of those skills, children who were identified as curious fared well in math and reading.” Clarifies lead researcher Dr. Prachi Shah: "These findings suggest that even if a child manifests low effortful control [or in-classroom focus], they can still have more optimal academic achievement, if they have high curiosity."
So the next time your kid fires off “why?” faster than you could possibly formulate answers (Why is the sky blue? Why do dogs sweat from their tongues? Why do I have two eyes instead of one? What are s’mores? Can I have one? Can I have 10? Why?), celebrate it like the sign of genius it surely is. Then take them to a museum or library to investigate, stat. Curiosity! It won’t kill cats. And it just may land your kid on the honor roll.