Understanding how adults and children learn is something I've been interested in ever since I became a Dad. My wife and I stay heavily invested in our children's learning and we always strive to cultivate curiosity, not just for our children but for ourselves too.
I came across this great TED talk by Gever Tulley about 5 Dangerous things you should let your kids do. As a parent you want to always protect your child from harm, but that might not be the best thing for them. They have to 'learn' boundaries, evaluate hazards, and figure out how to get out 'messes' they create. These are all important life lessons for young children and necessary for navigating the world when they are older.
Gever makes a point that these dangerous things are really teaching children to be creative, confident, and in control of their environment. Here are the 5-1/2 dangerous things he feels kids should experience.
Play with fire
Open pit fires are like catnip to children and those that don't understand the boundaries could come to irreparable harm. Yet letting them poke at the fire, feel its heat, understand how air and fuel adds or detracts from the fire are all important lessons. Plus, you can cook things!
Own a pocket knife
When I was a child living in Germany my Dad gave me a pocket knife at age 5. I thought it was so cool because all the 'big' kids had them. It truly is an empowering tool and you have to learn how to not cut off your finger. Have I ever cut myself? Yes, but I never lost an appendage. Children need to learn that this tool is dangerous when misused (much like fire), but a great aid if used properly.
Throw a spear
This dangerous thing took me by surprise but makes sense. Gever states humans are wired to throw things. It teaches us hand eye coordination, body mechanics, and much more. No wonder we were always playing baseball, throwing rocks at stuff, or shooting arrows.
Deconstructing things was one of the main reasons why I became an Engineer in the first place. I didn't know what certain things were and I really enjoy putting together little electronic kits. After a while I figured out some things which lead me to believe that I can 'figure stuff out. I agree with Gever that puzzling out the parts is a great practice to understand how things work and 'knowing' that things aren't a black box.
Break the DMCA / Driving a car
This one cracked me up. Learning how to 'riff' on things, hack them, break/fix/repeat, and tweak things to make them better will at some point cause you to accidentally break the law. The example Gever uses is buying at song on iTunes, then writing it to CD, then ripping it to mp3 format. You technically broke the law but you figured out solve problems.
The last example he shows is learning to drive a car in a kid friendly way. You let them steer and of course you control the gas and brake. No matter how slow you go, it seems like the most awesomest and adventurous thing a kid can do at that age
Isn't that what learning is? Awesome and adventurous?