The Key to Kids and Tech is Curiosity

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An interview with Jonathan Mugan and Laurel Moglen, Managing Web Editor, TMC

Technology is omnipresent, found in our homes, shops and schools. I worry my daughter isn’t learning enough tech in school and I worry her school doesn’t focus enough on social-emotional learning either. From the parents I talk to, I know I’m not alone. So, what’s our job as we march onwards into our ever-increasing technologically dominated world? According to Jonathan Mugan, computer scientist and author of Curiosity: Preparing your Child for the Ongoing Technological Explosion, I should start taking my energy away from worry, and focus it on supporting and growing my children’s sense of wonder and exploration. Great news! We can do that! — Abbie Schiller, Founder and CEO, TMC

How best can we set-up our kids to thrive in a future that is driven by tech?

Technology is changing the labor market significantly. It used to be you could get a job that didn’t require a lot of thought, and live a middle class lifestyle. What hasn’t hit the news yet, is that even in the service sector, any job that can be written down step by step will be automated. In order to thrive in the labor market, parents need to know that their kids need to stay curious, because it’s curiosity that’s going to make them better than a computer. All kids should learn how to program because it will be the way we’ll interact with our environment. We already are in some part with our smart phones. Soon, we’ll be programming computers like we program an intelligent thermostat. In short, kids will need to know how a computer works to stay smarter than the computer.

But, computers aren’t good at working with people. A computer will be bad at sales. Jobs that need people to work in teams and groups – that will still be important. Soft skills will be necessary. To thrive, kids will have to be technologically savvy and strong on an interpersonal level.

What is the ideal relationship to technology that a home environment might offer for 3-6 year olds?

It’s okay for 3-6 year olds to play on an iPad or computer. I think you want to let them have a little bit of screen time — the more educational the better. However, our brains are wired so we learn from physical interaction in the world. The idea of learning from a screen can only take you so far. Children still need to play with blocks or games or one another.

Also, it’s better for a kid to play on a laptop or desktop computer. This way they’re introduced to the full complexity of a computer early on. Our smart phones are so simple that kids don’t really learn what the basics are, like what is a file? Where does it exist? Or, how do you download something?

Describe what you mean by the Curiosity Cycle.

The curiosity cycle is about understanding our world at a fundamental level. It’s about how we see the world.  Here’s an example: A child sees a tree with leaves on it and learns that in the fall leaves fall off the tree. But when Fall come, the child notices the leaves from some trees aren’t falling. The child’s curiosity is piqued because the model the child has learned to be true has been violated. A new concept is added to the child’s world. At first, the child was just looking at leaves on trees, but now the thinking and questioning is stimulated to go deeper. As parents, our job is to jump start this cycle in our children. If your children have built-up a large repertoire of concepts and incomplete models, then acquiring knowledge becomes fun because they’re filling in the gaps.

What are ways we parents can keep and grow our kids’ curiosity cycle?

  • When you’re watching television with your kids, talk to your kids about tactics advertisers use to trick your children into buying something. Point out the music used in the commercials, or the kids playing with the toy that are slightly older than your kids. Does it look like they’re having fun?
  • Notice the simple things, things you take for granted all around you. For example, you go into a restaurant. It’s easy for us to take for granted the amazing complexity of a place that makes food for us.
  • Point out not just events in the environment, but problems in the environment that are being solved. For example, you could ask, “How do we get water to crops to land that’s dry? How can we get water uphill? With a bucket? Do we dig trenches? Let’s say you and your brother are out there – what would you do ?” Ask your children to solve the problem.  Then point out, that’s irrigation! The world is meant to be molded.
  • Ask really deep questions, like, “Is there life on other planets?” Allow yourself to not know the answer and wonder out loud with your child. Exploring possibilities with your children brings into high relief the structure of the universe.
  • When your kids stop to look at a worm, stop and look with them. Ask questions. Point out features the child might not notice about the environment around them.

Jonathan Mugan is a dad, computer science researcher and author of, The Curiosity Cycle: Preparing your Child for the Ongoing Technological Explosion.


The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for children ages 3-6. Check out episodes of our Emmy winning series “Ruby’s Studio”,  along with our beautiful children’s booksmusic, and more.


This article was originally published March 6, 2014.

Posted in: Science, Expert Advice, Modern Parenting