3 Fun Ways to Promote Curiosity on the Playground

Research shows that curiosity and self-motivated learning are critical for school readiness, helping children to remain engaged in the classroom and to develop the confidence that they are effective and capable students.

With summer here, wouldn’t it be fun to work on that self-motivation while playing around Memphis in some of our great new play spaces? We found three that are not your traditional playgrounds. These modern spaces encourage creativity and exploration, while providing opportunities for adults to engage with their children in an outside learning environment. Below are three ways to foster motivation in young children while playing.

1. Encourage Persistence

We want our children to be able to stay with a task until it is finished, and to feel successful about completing it. Therefore, it’s a good idea to offer activities to your little guy that are just challenging enough that they are rewarding but not frustrating. Offer encouragement and guidance if he asks for help, but remember he’ll feel more pride in his effort if he does it all by himself!

Woodland Discovery Playground, located in Shelby Farms, is a free 3 acre playground divided into different play spaces, each with its own focus: an area for exploring sand and water, wide open spaces perfect for free play, a large deep area lined with slides, and more. One area is full of “spider-web” netting that children can climb to reach a large resting platform. This is a challenging activity for ANY age, and the perfect spot for helping your little one accomplish a really rewarding task. Other areas to practice persistence here are the teeter-tottering rope swings and the rock walls in the “slide bowl.”

2. Offer Choices

Children are motivated to learn when they are invested in the activity. Truly, how interested are we in tasks that are required of us compared to tasks we pick ourselves? Let your daughter choose between activities that are a little difficult for her. Then, encourage her as she works through her challenge. It can be fun to work together. In many cases, however, she will have a greater sense of accomplishment if you refrain from doing the task for her or telling her how you want it done. It might even be fun if you allow HER to give YOU instructions! Each challenge she successfully meets will motivate her to welcome more.

My Big Backyard, located inside the Memphis Botanic Garden, abounds with choices appropriate for most age groups. There, children can flit from activity to activity, learning about plants, critters and worms. They can learn why rain is important, wade through the Critter Creek, and even get a bird’s eye view from the TreeTop Birdhouse. There is also a playspace for the littlest littles, where they can dig, crawl, and slide. My Big Backyard is free to members of the Botanic Gardens, but there is an admission price for non-members.

3. Promote Creativity

Children have a natural desire to learn, with no need for rewards or adult prompting. One way to nurture this innate motivation is to offer your child open-ended activities that capitalize on his creativity and curiosity. Open-ended activities have no right or wrong answer--his imagination is in charge! When he inevitably comes to you to evaluate his efforts, offer him the opportunity to give his own feedback by asking him to tell you what HE thinks about his accomplishment.

Rainbow Lake Playground, located inside Overton Park, is a shaded area with great play spaces to promote independent play. The large wooden blocks in the do-it-yourself building area are an open-ended activity that allows kids to create their own structures. With the noise-making sculptures here, kids are free to explore all kinds of sounds. Parents can have a little peace of mind, too, as the entire playground is fenced in and the gate is relatively small-hand proof.

We hope you will enjoy the variety of great play spaces that Memphis has to offer this summer; these are just three of many! Summer is a terrific time to get outdoors, get active, and get around the city. We at the Urban Child Institute encourage you to use this time with your little ones to encourage learning and ready them for school success while you are exploring new spaces and places together. Happy Summer!

First Years Last a Lifetime TM