Friday, February 13, 2009

Teaching Kids to Be Curious

On my way home this afternoon, I was listening to a discussion with Neil DeGrasse Tyson on NPR's Science Friday. He was plugging his new book, The Pluto Files, but in response to a caller question, he talked about how to raise our kids to be curious about science. He had some great advice.

All of that got me to thinking. My dad was a horrible father in some ways, but one thing he got right was instilling in me a curiosity about the world, about how things work, about the big questions in life.

I was always encouraged to read - when I had a question about something, I was told to go look it up in the encyclopedia. When we took family vacations, we went to historical sites, natural wonders, and other places where learning was part of the experience. I had magnets and iron filings. I collected rocks and tried to identify them. I had a microscope. I wanted a telescope, but in the San Fernando Valley, the light pollution would have made it useless, so we went to the Griffith Observatory sometimes. We went to the zoo a lot, and when I asked questions about the origins of animals, my father (a Catholic) explained evolution to me.

That's the interesting thing to me. My father was a man of faith, an old-school Catholic, but he believed in science, and science did not in any way inhibit his faith. He believed in intelligent design long before anyone had thought of that name, as I suspect is true for many Catholics. In fact, his understanding of science (and he was an avid reader) only deepened his faith.

And while I long ago gave up being Catholic, I will always be grateful for the curiosity he instilled and encouraged in me when I was young. The greatest gift a father can give his son is an open and curious mind.

No matter what other mistakes a father makes, a curious and open mind can find ways to heal the damage. It isn't fun, and it would be better if all fathers were perfect, but we know that isn't going to happen, so do this one great thing for your kids - teach them to be curious about life.

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