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Character Building - Curiosity

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

CURIOSITY," in the definition of a French writer on the mental life of children, "is the mind in quest of knowledge. It will show itself from the first months, with the first glance brought to bear on things, with the first movement of the hand to seize and feel a thing." It is the mainspring of intelligence. The young mind, like the young body, needs exercise in order to grow. Curiosity is the stimulus which urges it to seek new sensations, novel impressions, for which there is constant hunger, and out of which are formed new ideas. The more it explores its world, the further it widens its circle of possible knowledge; and when it becomes able to talk, its means of satisfying its curiosity are immensely in-creased, for now it can ask about things, the mere seeing or touching of which is unsatisfying. Then arrives that trying period when the little one wishes to take part in everything- is always "under-foot," and follows us with perpetual questionings. He already has learned the appearance of many things; now he begins to notice their connection, and that each object or act has a cause, a meaning, or a certain regularity of occurrence. Hence, besides his constant inquiry "What is that?" come the endless "Whys?" and "Hows?" which so tax our patience. Some of this is mere chatter- an egotistic desire to be continually noticed and served; and such behavior a wise parent will repress; but largely it is legitimate, and due to the restlessness of the growing mind, astonished at the host of unexplained things constantly met with.

It is characteristic of this stage that almost any answer will be accepted, partly because of the child's entire faith in us, and partly because in its wondering state of mind every marvel seems possible. It is just because it is so easy to abuse this dawning and trustful intelligence-to lead their minds astray by careless answers-that parents and others ought to be cautious and conscientious in what they say. When a chance offers, they ought to show the little questioner how he may find out for himself the facts he wants to know and more besides. It is even possible, now and then, to set him in the way of thinking out answers to questions which he asked be-cause he did not yet know how to study. Above all things be honest with him. It is a crime against innocence to amuse oneself by deceiving a child. "When it is impossible to respond seriously to his ill-timed and inopportune questions, it is better to answer simply `I do not know,' or, `You cannot understand that at your age,' than to play upon his good faith."

The difference between the right and wrong sort of curiosity may be aptly shown by comparing "Pandora," Volume II, and "The Inquisitive Girl," Volume III, with some of the simple, suggestive poems in Volume I, such as "Twinkle, Twinkle," "Foreign Lands," and "The Wind," which set forth the natural questioning of the child-mind. ln Volume V " Walks With a Naturalist" will prove stimulative to the eager young enquirers. Volume VI in the Library is replete with results of the enquiring spirit, but special attention is directed to the article "The Lost City of Petra." Scientific curiosity fills Volume VIII, and we urge the reading of the section " Astronomy," and " The Habits of Ants," and " Spiders and Their Ways." In Volume IX the biographical sketch of Franklin contains much of value. Also, in this connection, read "Hints on Education," Volume X, and "The Barefoot Boy," Whittier's poem, in Volume XI.

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