Approaches to Learning
Promoting Curiosity
Core Finding: AL-CUR-C03

Allowing children to explore in safe and secure environments, and providing open-ended materials that appeal to their interests, help promote and sustain children's curiosity. Hands-on sensory play is helpful for children in the sensorimotor stage of development. Providing more time for play and outdoor activities, and reducing screen time, are also important.



To encourage young children’s curiosity, exploration, and learning, caregivers can provide novel and open-ended materials. These materials do not have predetermined purposes but offer many possibilities.

Toys promote curiosity & problem solving,

while free play nurtures creativity. In the absence of toys, playing with everyday materials can also help develop curiosity and promote problem-solving in young children.
  1. Segatti, L., Brown-Du-Paul, J., & Keyes, T. L. (2003). Using everyday materials to promote problem solving in toddlers. Young Children, 58(5), 12–18.
Divergent thinking is a crucial initial step in developing problem-solving skills. Open-ended materials foster divergent thinking skills because children can use them flexibly and with multiple outcomes. Examples of open-ended materials are cardboard tubes, boxes, paper, blocks, and leaves.

Children from birth to age two are in the sensorimotor stage of development and use their senses to learn about the world around them.

Materials should be light, easy to grasp, and offer a variety of textures and temperatures. For example, wood is warm and inviting, while plastics tend to be cold. Tactile experiences include opportunities to explore sand, water, mud, and ice.
  1. Shabazian, A. N., & Li Soga, C. (2014). Making the right choice simple: Selecting materials for infants and toddlers. Young Children, 69(3), 60-65.

Through hands-on play, even infants are developing rudimentary theories (schemas) to explain their world. In other words, infants construct an idea of how things work in their heads, and then refine it over time through experience. Infants enjoy using their senses to learn and use oral faculties to explore, such as by mouthing things. Infants love to gradually explore the texture, scent, taste, sight, and sound of art materials.

They are often messy in their use of the materials, for example, they may crawl through paint. Projects must use materials that are washable, nontoxic, and that do not contain small parts. Activities should be open-ended so that children have the time and space to construct their own understanding of the materials and their properties. Ample time should be allocated for play and clean-up.

Infants and toddlers are process- rather than product-oriented. Placing cotton balls on the back of a die-cut sheep is less satisfying to them than finger painting. Colouring in a colouring book is less exciting than playing with playdough. Infants and toddlers want to feel the paint as it covers their fingers, smell the mint in the scented playdough, and taste the basil leaves in the tub on the table.

Providing infants and young children with varied experiences and early opportunities to engage in natural outdoor play can support their sense of belonging to the world. It also creates an important foundation that embeds a continued and lasting interest in exploring, questioning, and appreciating nature and fostering curiosity. Making sense of new sights, smells, textures, and sounds stimulates brain development and provides a foundation for learning by encouraging discovery and exploration.

Parents can use outdoor learning as an extension of classroom learning. Research shows that outdoor learning experiences positively impact children’s physical development, academic performance, peer interaction, and emotional well-being.

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  1. Merewether, J. (2015). Young Children’s Perspectives of Outdoor Learning Spaces: What Matters? Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 40(1), 99–108.

  2. Yildirim, G., & Özyilmaz Akamca, G. (2017). The Effect of Outdoor Learning Activities on the Development of Preschool Children. South African Journal of Education, 37(2), 1-10.

Engaging children in their surroundings allows them to boost inquisitiveness, see everyday moments as learning opportunities, and build knowledge and vocabulary.
  1. Deaver, A., & Wright, L. (2018). A World of Learning. Young Children, 73(5), 22-27.

Infants and toddlers can learn a lot by exploring natural materials.

For example, bark and shells provide wonderful textures for young children to explore. These simple, open-ended, and natural materials inspire imaginative play while instilling a connection with nature. This also encourages their curiosity about the natural world.
  1. Shabazian, A. N., & Li Soga, C. (2014). Making the right choice simple: Selecting materials for infants and toddlers. Young Children, 69(3), 60-65.

As children are naturally curious, ensuring their safety is paramount when they begin spontaneously wanting to explore the environment. Removing obstacles that can cause young children to stumble and fall is necessary. Mouthing is an important developmental and learning milestone for babies, so paying attention to safety risks and their health is critical. Adults need to observe children closely to reduce the risk of them choking or cutting themselves, or swallowing toxic materials.

Reducing screen time, so that children have time to play and explore indoors and outdoors, is helpful in building curiosity. Studies in various countries have found that excessive screen time in children two and under negatively impacts their cognitive abilities, attention skills, language development, and future academic skills.

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  1. Aishworiya, R., Cai, S., Chen, H. Y., Phua, D. Y., Broekman, B. F. P., Daniel, L. M., Chong, Y. S., Shek, L. P., Yap, F., Chan, S. Y., Meaney, M. J., & Law, E. C. (2019). Television viewing and child cognition in a longitudinal birth cohort in Singapore: the role of maternal factors. BMC Pediatrics, 19, 286.

  2. Duch, H., Fisher, E. M., Ensari, I., Font, M., Harrington, A., Taromino, C., Yip, J., & Rodriguez, C. (2013b). Association of screen time use and language development in Hispanic toddlers: a cross-sectional and longitudinal study. Clinical Pediatrics, 52(9), 857–865.

  3. Paudel, S., Leavy, J., & Jancey, J. (2016). Correlates of mobile screen media use among children aged 0-8: protocol for a systematic review. Systematic Reviews, 5, 91.

A longitudinal study conducted in Singapore on 1247 mothers looked at maternal risk factors, infant television (TV) viewing, and later child cognition. The study found that infant TV exposure at 12 months had an impact on their cognitive abilities at 4.5 years old.

Another study of 1061 families in Singapore found that screen viewing was high (more than 2 hours a day) among children under two years old. A higher prevalence was reported with increasing age. In those with any screen-viewing activity, screen viewing was about 60 minutes per day among children aged less than six months. In children aged 18–24 months, it was on average 80 minutes per day.

Caregivers should avoid digital media for toddlers younger than 18 to 24 months other than video chatting. For children between 18 to 24 months, caregivers should watch digital media with them because they learn from watching and talking. Limit screen use for preschool children, ages 2 to 5, to just 1 hour a day of high-quality programming.

Replacing screen time with time to play with actual materials around the house and outdoors also gives children more opportunities to engage in creative play and exploration of their environment. This hands-on play builds curiosity, creativity, persistence, and initiative, resulting in positive approaches to learning in the child's present and later life.