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Children demonstrate interest and eagerness in learning about their world.

Children are born with a natural interest in the people and objects found in their environment. After all, they are seeing things for the first time! Children use all of their senses to take in all this new information and use their developing skills to make sense of what they are seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching. Secure relationships build the trust that children need to exercise their curiosity. Caregivers who consistently respond to children’s signals model positive and responsive interaction. Children use these early models to build the self-confidence they need to initiate exploration, attempt new experiences, and engage with objects and people.

As children develop new skills, exploration becomes increasingly purposeful and meaningful. When children are able to sit up, they have a different perspective on their world. They can look around in different directions and reach for objects. Their developing fine motor skills help children satisfy their curiosity through mouthing, grasping, and manipulating objects. Mobile children begin to choose what objects they want to engage with, and can move near caregivers to initiate contact.

With the emergence of language, children are able to express their preferences and can use simple words to initiate, engage, and maintain social interactions in order to learn about their world. By 36 months, children will ask questions during interactions. They appear to be curious about everything and need to understand how the world works. Children also become increasingly interested in and curious about their peers, and continue to broaden out their participation in new experiences.

More About Curiosity

Curiosity can be described as a natural interest that humans have in the world around them. Cultural context plays a large part in nurturing children’s curiosity. The term “curiosity” is not universal, and cultures vary in the degree to which they value and promote curiosity. However, what is universal is children’s inquisitive nature.1 They use all of their senses to take in information, and enjoy discovering new objects and actions. This interest in the world provides children with opportunities to interact and engage in meaningful experiences. They use communication to inquire and seek answers.

Children point, gesture, and use sounds to indicate questioning. Once verbal language emerges, they start to combine words to ask simple questions. Caregivers nurture this natural emotion; however, depending on cultural beliefs, how they nurture and support curiosity looks different. The most important take-away is that children’s interest should be acknowledged and encouraged to support future learning.

Birth to 9 months

Children are discovering the world through exploration and social interaction. Children react with special interest to new objects, people, and experiences.

Indicators for children include:

  • Observes the environment and people; tracks a toy as it moves from one point to another
  • Shows interest in him- or herself, e.g., gazes at hands, places feet in mouth
  • Actively explores new objects found in the environment, e.g., touches, pats, and mouths
  • Attempts to initiate interaction with others, e.g., smiles, reaches for a caregiver
  • Participates in joint attention with caregiver(s), e.g., focuses on the same object

Strategies for interaction

  • Create an inviting environment for the child to explore; change materials and toys in the child’s environment on a regular basis
  • Create opportunities in which the child can explore his or her outside environment; talk with the child about what is happening
  • Provide a variety of sensory materials, e.g., books that incorporates different textures, toys that shake or rattle
  • Respond thoughtfully and promptly to the child’s attempts for interaction

7 months to 18 months

Children’s newly acquired physical control allows them to explore and initiate interactions in a more purposeful and meaningful manner.

Indicators for children include:

  • Demonstrates an interest in new objects by manipulating and turning the object
  • Uses familiar objects in new ways, e.g., places a toy basket on head
  • Moves toward a new activity by crawling or walking
  • Begins to demonstrate preferences for objects and/or materials, e.g., selects a book to read when given options
  • Engages familiar adults in meaningful interactions, e.g., points to favorite toy, brings a book over to be read

Strategies for interaction

  • Provide an environment that allows the child to pick and choose what activity or toys he or she would like to play with
  • Provide materials and objects that can be used in more than one way
  • Encourage activities that are meaningful to the child, e.g., a favorite book or a favorite song

16 months to 24 months

Children become increasingly curious about new experiences and activities that include peers and adults; they begin to interact and seek involvement with others.

Indicators for children include:

  • Demonstrates an interest in new activities and a willingness to try out new experiences
  • Engages in active exploration in new environments, e.g., walks over to a toy shelf in an unfamiliar home or classroom
  • Initiates play with others, e.g., a grandparent, sibling, or teacher
  • Experiments with different ways to use materials and objects

Strategies for interaction

  • Provide the child with different choices for play and activities throughout the day
  • Encourage the child to participate in a new activity but do not force
  • Model positive interaction with the child throughout the day
  • Encourage the child to notice what other children are doing, e.g., “Annie and Steve are making a pizza out of their play dough”

21 months to 36 months

Children demonstrate initiative by participating and maintaining engagement in novel experiences. Children use observation, communication, and inquiry to make sense of these experiences.

Indicators for children include:

  • Observes other children in play
  • Enjoys accomplishing simple goals, e.g., completing a puzzle, blowing a bubble
  • Asks questions while interacting with others, e.g., “why,” “what,” “how”
  • Participates in a broader array of experiences, e.g., outdoor jungle gyms, art projects

Strategies for interaction

  • Encourage the child when he or she is trying something new and/or taking reasonable risks; remain sensitive to the child’s temperament and provide support as needed
  • Engage in conversations with the child and answer their questions clearly and honestly
  • Build upon the child’s interest by introducing books and other activities
  • Extend interactions by introducing novel or alternate ways to use materials, objects, or toys


  1. Zero to Three (n.d.). Promoting Social Emotional Development: Tips on Nurturing Your Child’s Curiosity.

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Reviewed: 2012