Creating a Classroom Culture Around Curiosity and Wonder

by Kate Sommerville, Professional Development Specialist

The future belongs to the curious. The ones who are not afraid to try it, explore it, poke at it, question it, and turn it inside out.  ~Anonymous

We are all born curious. If you have ever had the privilege of watching a young toddler navigate the large environment around them, you realized quickly that they use all of their senses to explore their surroundings, and are learning at a rapid pace, usually without a care or fear in the world. As the caring adult in their life, we are often quick on their heels, redirecting them, coaching them, and keeping them out of harm’s way, while still trying to allow them the luxury of getting their feet wet and their hands dirty. But then these toddlers get a little older and make their way into our schools, and too often this natural curiosity is squelched. These same children who were filled with wonder and delight are asked to stay focused and not allow their minds to wander beyond the learning target on the board in front of them. How, then, can we look for opportunities to bring curiosity and wonder into our classrooms daily? How can we allow a learner’s mind to wander in meaningful ways? How can we coach them through this process and allow them to use these moments to drive their own learning?

The Institute’s framework for learner centered practice, the Honeycomb Model, outlines 35 personalized learning practices. Of those, Curiosity Driven Learning may be my favorite! Curiosity is the fuel for discovery, inquiry, and understanding. Cultivating this curiosity in our classrooms will jump start intrinsic motivation and allow for deeper learning.

My role at the Institute allows me the opportunity to travel across states and explore new places quite often. Although my days are usually jam-packed with professional development and speaking engagements, I always try to get out in my environment for some on the spot place based learning. My most recent trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas was no exception. The Arkansas Office of Innovation for Education invited me to come and speak at their Education Innovation Summit. In between sessions, I threw on my running shoes and explored Hot Springs National Park. Within minutes my mind was wandering, my curiosity was piqued, and I was anxious to learn more about this city, this national park, these geothermal pods. Knowing I was jumping into a session on curiosity, I figured I’d take a few pictures and share the way my adult brain wondered when given the opportunity. Below is the slide that I created to add to my presentation that afternoon. I was also quick to share that, as an adult, I had the luxury of taking the time I wanted to find the answers to most of the questions that were swirling through my mind during those 4 miles.


The learners in our classrooms are no different. Something is said, or they notice something at recess, or their mind goes back to another time and place. They are thinking about all sorts of new ideas. It is in those moments that we need to nurture that curiosity and use it to our advantage. 

Shortly after my hilly and humid run through the national park, I worked alongside educators as we explored strategies to create curious thinkers and uncover opportunities to build wonder in our learning environments. From helping learners find relevance, to supporting SEL, to the fact that it’s just plain FUN – we all agreed there is a definite need for this work in our learner centered environments. It is time we set the stage, shift our mindsets, take the risk, and make exploration fun and curiosity a part of every day! 

Looking for some ways to bring curiosity and wonder back into the classroom? Explore the resources linked here and jot down your ideas on this Capture Your Thinking document. Better yet, reach out! We’d love to explore ways we can help you move your work forward.