Cultivating Curiosity in Crazy Times

The last few months have been a flurry of travel and frantic catch-up in between, and it’s not promising to let up anytime soon. Sam has solidly entered the twos, so I feel like I’ve been tweaking everything to fit the new normal of having a little boy around (no more infant here). It’s a fairly different game. And I can’t say I’ve been 100% comfortable with it, either. To be honest, it’s been tough to sit down and write; I’ve been distracted with packing, unpacking, working on professional projects, and–in between–trying to figure out what The Curiosity Project looks like with a two year old. But then I remember why I created The Curiosity Project and what it’s all about: cultivating curiosity through our everyday activities (Sam’s and mine) and embarking on interesting adventures in big and tiny ways, all the time, in ways that aren’t necessarily straightforward or easy. It’s not just something we reserve for our best days, when everyone is well-fed and not in time-out. And it’s not all fancy museums and epic hikes (although you know I love that stuff), because sometimes there’s just no time for that. But here’s the best news: cultivating a love for learning and a deep curiosity about the world and people around us works best when it’s not in a bubble. When it just becomes a part of all the usual stuff we do, not just the photo-op-worthy stuff.

So here’s the scenario: I’ve got work projects piling up, Sam’s a little grumpy because it’s been 90 degrees and he doesn’t have my full attention, and we’ll be traveling on and off for the next seven weeks. Now what? Well, maybe you’re in a crazy season, too. Maybe you’re gearing up for a move, trying to balance work and parenthood, or just plain frazzled from everything. Or maybe every season is crazy in its own way, and that’s just life. So I figured I’d brainstorm up some ideas for both of us (and if your world is as crazy as mine, then you’re welcome simply to skim everything below!).

Use the tiniest spaces in the day. Okay, so, there aren’t that many of them (which is probably good, because I’d just use them to pour more coffee, and my caffeine intake is already through the roof). But there are these little 30-second windows that I can use to really engage with Sam: at breakfast, in the car, waiting in the checkout line. I want to use them well. Maybe that means writing a new word on an index card for Sam to learn (“Dude! That’s an iguanadon! Want to see the word iguanadon?”). Stopping to take 30 seconds to sit down, level up, and calmly explain to Sam what the plan is for the day and what he can expect. Pulling up something epic to listen to on Spotify while packing lunch or driving. Chatting with the person behind us in line (rather than checking my phone). Throwing that fresh bedsheet over my head and playing ghost for half a minute before making the bed for the next wave of houseguests. Letting Sam be the one to check the mailbox. These tiny little snapshots fit together into a bigger picture of interest and learning and fun…and good will toward Sam.

Make a little investment in the day. On an ideal day, it’s great if I can get a little head start on Sam, drink my coffee, have a little quiet time, jot down a to-do list. Even five minutes. And it usually works well for Sam to start his day in a similar way: the first thing he wants to do when he gets up is read a pile of books (me too, dude; me too). Our mornings always go more smoothly when I carve out fifteen minutes to read to him before we hit the ground running. Every kid is different; maybe for yours it’s another activity. Whatever it is, taking the time for it is an investment. It’s a tone-setting gesture that says, “We have a lot of stuff to do today, but you’re my main priority. You’ve got my attention.” 15 minutes of really focused attention, first thing, provides a big return throughout the day. 

Find learning experiences everywhere. Recently, Sam’s been very interested in letters of the alphabet. The other day, we had a few minutes to kill before leaving for an appointment: not enough time for a legitimate walk, just enough time to wander down our street a few hundred feet. And suddenly I noticed that there are letters and words and numbers hidden all over our street. On mailboxes. On license plates. Spray painted on pavement. Imprinted in concrete. On street signs, sprinkler heads, candy wrappers, manhole covers, for sale signs, political signs. Our five minute not-walk turned into an epic scavenger hunt. And I was floored. Nearly two years we’ve been walking these streets, and I didn’t notice until now. And opportunities like this are everywhere! The world is a scavenger hunt. The grocery store is full of new colors and tastes. The hardware store is all textures and puzzles. The library is all imagination. The yard is a jungle. This is the usual everyday stuff we’re already experiencing, but choosing to see it all as one big opportunity to learn and explore makes it feel more epic and cool. Just re-orienting my mind to that puts me on the alert for new ways to engage with the usual stuff. 

Hunt for wonder in the mundane. Luckily for us, little kids are great at this. Sam will stop in his tracks to scream, “MOON!” whenever he spots it. I have to resist the urge to respond with complete jaded-ness (seriously, the moon: talk about something that’s both commonplace and wondrous. Or, for that matter, the sun. The boring old thing keeps us alive!). This is where it’s so easy to suppress that innate curiosity that we were all born with, and which fades with age if we’re not careful. Sometimes we just have to remind ourselves to pay attention (more on that here). Mostly, though, the real game is adjusting my attitude: shifting my thinking just the tiniest bit to tap into the opportunities for wonder, adventure, and fascination in our immediate surroundings. And that’s usually when Sam and I both learn the most. 

These weeks when I’m frantically working through the to-do list (or trying to find my to-do list), packing/unpacking, or just squeaking by in the midst of the craziness…it might feel like survival mode, but maybe there are actually a hundred ways to keep paying attention, keep cultivating our curiosity and our love for learning, despite our calendars and our caffeination levels. There’s never a convenient time to stop and smell the roses, so we just have to work it in somehow. And maybe that’s actually the best-case scenario in disguise, because that way learning just becomes a regular habit, a part of whatever we’re doing, rather than some disembodied chore that you do when you sit down at your desk at school. And it makes all the mundane stuff more fun.

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