Open Connections

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The Spark of Curiosity
4.1.18

Curiosity. I think back and I remember the feeling of being curious as a child. But somewhere along the way into my adulthood, I began to ignore that tug of curiosity, whispering to me from time to time. Maybe it was “schooled” out of me. Or perhaps I was just too busy and distracted raising my five children. I did not anticipate that the decision to homeschool my two youngest sons, Jack and Ben, would help me find this lost spark of curiosity. But their journey pulled me along for an unexpected ride into a whole new educational experience. And slowly, my own curiosity began to re-emerge. And I became curious (pun-intended!) to learn more about this quality that is inspiring me and enriching my life in so many ways.

 

Merriam Webster defines curiosity as “a desire to know; an interest leading to inquiry.” Research shows that curiosity has a variety of benefits. In a study published in the October 2014 issue of the journal Neuron, researchers suggest that when we become curious, the brain’s chemistry changes, allowing us to learn and retain information. And according to the Greater Good Magazine published by the University of California-Berkeley, “Curious people are happier. Research has shown curiosity to be associated with higher levels of positive emotions, lower levels of anxiety, more satisfaction with life, and greater psychological well-being.”

 

Speaking from my own experience, I noticed my increased curiosity and deepening interest in specific topics as I observed Jack and Ben begin their homeschooling adventures seven years ago. I watched their natural curiosity lead them deeper when a subject interested them. For Jack, some of these topics included John F. Kennedy, the Titanic, and the events of September 11th. He would pore over books and other materials wishing to learn as much as he could about the topic at hand. Ben has been fascinated with Rube Goldberg machines since he was a toddler, so it was no surprise when he expressed an interest in learning more about Rube Goldberg, the man, as well as Rube Goldberg machines. Presently, the Flag Code has sparked both of their interests (and mine!) because of current events in the United States. I am constantly amazed at their thirst for knowledge and how focused they can be when they are exploring something that intrigues them, when something piques their curiosity.

 

You could say my boys helped to reignite my desire and passion to learn again. They led me down this path of curiosity and lifelong learning. They are my facilitators, modeling for me how exciting this adventure can be. I realized that I had lost the desire to learn, that natural spark of curiosity. I began to open again to the limitless possibilities. It was remarkable.

 

I first noticed my reignited curiosity with my attraction to art and specific artists. I have never considered myself skilled at art, and in the spirit of OC language and no self-

put downs, I would have to say, “I am still developing my art skills”! My most recent obsession is with the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Having spent most of my childhood in Japan, I tend to gravitate towards anything related to Japanese culture, and there is something about Kusama’s repetitive use of polka dots and awe-inspiring mirror art installations that drew me in. My husband and I even took a day trip to Washington, D.C. last April to wait in a long line for tickets to see her Infinity Mirrors Tour at the Hirshhorn Museum. I walked away from that exhibit feeling even more inspired and passionate about this artist.

 

I knew I needed to bring this artist to life in the Tuesday Group Tutorial II program. I introduced youth to this artist through a presentation about her life and art. We then worked on three different Kusama-inspired art activities. First, youth worked on a still life art piece using acrylics, oil pastels, and/or permanent markers. Youth started by creating a repetitive pattern as their background, which Kusama calls a net. Then youth chose a colorful object as their still life to place on top of their net background. The results were amazing!

 

Our second exploration used Kusama’s Obliteration Rooms as our inspiration. Kusama created Obliteration Rooms so that museum visitors could become active participants in the creation of her art by applying colorful dot stickers to a completely white room. Our Tuesday Group Tutorial II group created our own Obliteration art that is on display in the Slate Room.

 

Finally, we followed Kusama’s fascination with pumpkins and created Pumpkin Polka Dot Pieces on Halloween. Each youth worked on two pumpkins—one white and one orange—and painted patterns of polka dots to create magnificent pumpkin art. Watching the youth in my program become immersed in this art study was truly inspiring.

 

This curiosity and desire to create art has also been reflected in my love of nature. I am a scientist at heart. But the thought of combining art and science through nature journaling has always fascinated me. Yet, I hesitated to give it a try. This past summer, I met a skilled nature journalist in Vermont who inspired me to reach beyond my comfort zone and create my own nature journal. Each weekend, I head outdoors alone or with my family to take a hike. I carry a field bag with a sketchbook, watercolors, colored pencils, and other sketching implements. On a recent hike, I stopped to sketch two varieties of wild asters, gathered a variety of leaves to identify, and noticed two different shrubs with red berries. I sketched the berry shrubs, noting unique bark on one. At home, I did some research and determined that one was winterberry and the other a winged euonymus. I learned more on that hike because of my heightened curiosity and desire to know more. I felt a thirst for knowledge that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

 

I was so excited to share this passion with the Thursday Group Tutorial II program and incorporate this with our Nature Journals. We created duct tape journals with three different signatures —one containing lined paper, a second containing a mixture of graph paper and plain white paper, and the third containing watercolor paper. What I find most inspiring is that each youth has a palette of paper-saturated watercolors stored in a small wax-paper envelope in the back of their journals. We carry water brushes with us on our hikes and have the opportunity to use our watercolors to add color and details about items we are sketching. Seeing youth sit on the bridge by the creek sketching and painting leaves and hickory nuts is thrilling.

 

I see and feel the difference in myself as I have allowed my natural curiosity and sense of wonder to return. When I am talking about or sharing a topic that I am passionate about, there is a palpable difference. I feel it and I believe others feel it, too. I work to model excitement and curiosity with my own young people and with youth at OC. I also take the time to notice when something catches their attention and draws them in. I encourage them to learn more...to follow that trail of curiosity. Find your passion and dive deeper. Let curiosity lead the way. You never know where it will lead. I know I can’t wait to see what spark comes next, in myself and in those around me. To quote Albert Einstein: “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”