A Guide to Curiosity Approach to Children's Early Learning

Children’s early years learning comes in many different styles, some of which are better known than others. For example, the Montessori method, which is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play, has been used for over 100 years in some parts of the world, but has only comparatively recently become well known in the UK. Another method that has gained popularity is the Steiner approach, formed by Rudolph Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and artist, which is based on the idea that a child’s spiritual, moral and creative sides need as much attention as their intellect.

One of the newest approaches to children’s early learning gaining traction both nationally and internationally is the Curiosity Approach. But what is the Curiosity Approach and how can it benefit your child?

What is the Curiosity Approach?

The Curiosity Approach was developed by co-founders Lyndsey Hellyn and Stephanie Bennett, who have over 50 years combined teaching and leadership experience in Early Childhood education and learning.

In an interview with the University of Birmingham, the pair described the Curiosity Approach as ‘A beautiful recipe made from ingredients that have inspired, shaped by great educational pioneers, delivered by thoughtful and mindful practitioners, to bring magic back to childhood’. They say that in practice this means a nursery setting that is designed to feel like ‘an extension of home, not a watered-down version of school’.

A Combination of Theories

The Curiosity Approach takes its inspiration from various progressive educational theories including Montessori and Steiner, as mentioned above, as well as Reggio, which focuses on self-directed and experiential learning, and the Te Whariki approach from New Zealand.

These theories have been combined and developed over many years of practical experience by Hellyn and Bennett, both of whom run several nurseries of their own in their home towns of Birmingham and Leicester. The pair discovered that, independently of each other, they were adopting similar methods within their nurseries, such as replacing plastic toys with natural and found objects, and stepping away from planned activities to letting children lead their own play.

A Simple Approach

In the University of Birmingham interview they say: ’We didn’t invent curiosity. It’s an innate desire. But I began to notice a change in the practitioners coming through: the need to inspire the younger generation. At first we were going to offer training, but we realised it was something bigger than that… Pedagogical theory can be overwhelming - for young staff members learning, and for parents. The Curiosity Approach does what it says on the tin. Be curious. Be adventurous. Play.’

How does the Curiosity Approach work?

A Curiosity Approach early years setting looks very different from what you’d usually expect from a nursery. There are no brightly coloured walls or shiny plastic toys that make noises. Instead the focus of the physical environment is on natural materials, neutral tones, white-washed walls and wooden objects. Children are encouraged to play with household items of bric-a-brac, such as nuts and bolts, garden canes, hessian and curtain rings. But what is the benefit of play using everyday items instead of toys specifically aimed at children? In an interview with nursery management software firm Famly, Lyndsey Hellyn says ‘Some people want to offer busy, bright walls, but there is a lot of research out there to show the effect on children and how it can feel.’

The Curiosity Approach believes that too many bright colours can overstimulate children, and there is research out there to back up this theory. Bright colours which have been carelessly placed around a room are thought to cause tiredness, anger, upset, miscommunication and stress in young children. The Curiosity Approach recognises that stimulation is necessary in every child’s mental and emotional development, but believes that too many colourful plastic toys isn’t the way to do it. Lyndsey Hellyn says ‘Plastic all smells the same, feels the same and often comes in bright colours that overstimulate children. On the other hand, if you’re recycling and sourcing open-ended resources and natural materials, you’re bringing different elements, textures and smells. That sense of curiosity and wonder will come with it’.

How does the Curiosity Approach help children develop?

The founders of the Curiosity Approach say that it is about developing skills that will be relevant to children growing up in an ever-changing world. These include:

  • Independent thinking
  • Stronger non-verbal communication
  • Language and verbal communication
  • Problem-solving
  • Lifelong learning
  • Risk taking
  • Imagination
  • Respect for resources and the natural world
  • Creative and critical thinking

Stephanie Bennett says ‘In 30 years, half the jobs we have now will not be in existence. The best thing we can do for our children is to create thinkers and doers. To manage and take risks. To be curious. Because curiosity is the spark that ignites everything else’.

But what about Academic Achievement?

Bennett and Hellyn say the main concern parents have when considering whether to send their child to a nursery that uses the Curiosity Approach method is whether their child will miss out on academic learning. Stephanie Bennett says ‘Academic achievement is the most common thing for parents to question. Will they learn their ABC, will they learn numbers? It’s understandable: parents feel under pressure to help their child achieve their potential. Our children learn those things - supported by staff who integrate counting, talking, reading into the child’s own play, not by sitting them all down as a group and doing a spreadsheet.’

The emphasis of the Curiosity Approach is not academic achievement, but the enjoyment of discovery that inspires a child’s natural awe and wonder of the world. By developing a child’s curiosity and sense of adventure, they acquire important skills such as problem solving and independent thinking, which will help them in all areas of their lives as they grow into adulthood. Removing bright colours and plastic toys creates a calm environment and allows them to explore different textures and materials.

Ultimately, the Curiosity Approach allows children to lead their own learning and develop at their own pace. As Lyndsey Hellyn says ‘The work of the child is play’.

At Rainbow Smiles we’re delighted to say that we’ve begun The Curiosity Approach accreditation scheme. For more information please click on the link, or drop us an email or give us a call.

A Guide to Curiosity Approach to Children's Early Learning