I asked a lot of questions when I was a kid. That’s what kids do.
They ask. And ask again.
Somehow as we grow up, we are subtly (or not so subtly) discouraged from asking so many questions.
And now I realize how dangerous that is to our own development, and to the innovators we can someday become.
If I have one piece of advice for people promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) interest and development in children, it is this: Keep encouraging questions even if you don’t know the answers.
That’s how we inspire innovators.
Easier Said Than Done
It’s a long day with children who keep asking “Why does this happen?” and “How does this work?”
Exhausting sometimes. I get it.
I just witnessed a young child (she’s three) help a contemporary explore the world.
The girl’s mom is patient and encourages observant eyes and curious hands.
The child was pressing buttons on a robot to make it do certain things and figuring out patterns to games.
When another child was hesitant, the young girl encouraged him to do the same things she was doing.
There was no fear or concern for doing something wrong.
She did what came naturally.
While she’s too young to understand equations or terms, this exploration would become her reference point and foundation for grasping harder things.
Why This Matters
Children as young as six can get involved in FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) programs.
For many, this is their first exposure to STEM and it sets the stage for future comprehension and appreciation.
I recently did a Q&A with FIRST students and one asked me how I thought FIRST would appear to students in the future.
I talked about how fast technology is moving, and that we simply don’t know what challenges we’ll have in 20 years – or even five. And that’s a good thing.
FIRST competition is designed to always present a new challenge so participants are able to adapt and use a variety of skill sets, and work across teams to take on complex problems.
And that’s exactly what we’ll need in our future workforce.
By encouraging curiosity and questioning, we are instilling confidence in kids that they can find the answer.
They are focused on solving a problem and not fearing failure. They see possibilities rather than “we can’t because…”
When we did our workshop, we challenged the children to answer the question, “Why don’t we have flying cars?” The older kids were firmly planted in the challenges of today: cost, feasibility, logistics and safety.
The younger kids were more imaginative and put their energy, effort and excitement into creating the cars.While they understood the same constraints, their imagination was not hindered by these things.
Reality and maturity affects our creativity. We can’t help that.
What I advocate is letting children have an imaginative experience with no constraints for as long as they can.
Here’s what I would have told my 10-year-old self: Your experiences shape what happens next. Ask (more) questions. Believe that anything is possible – because it is.
FIRST programs are designed for every age group – and there’s certainly a group for you.