Young children ask a lot of questions – encourage them by asking MORE questions
Director of Life Rocks
From about the age of 4, children become questioning machines. What is this? What is that? Why is the sky blue? Why is that man fat? Whether it is annoying, adorable or both at once – the reason young children end up asking so many questions is because they are forming their own vision of the world. In this forming process, they draw on the adults around them to fill in the gaps and paint a better picture of life.
This might seem obvious, but what isn’t obvious is that the quality of answers and responses given can impact the children in different ways. Let's take a look and see how we can improve the answers we give our children by maybe asking more questions. “Studies of classroom talk suggest that the frequency and the quality of children’s questions drop as soon as they begin in an early childhood setting. The way educators treat children’s questions influences whether children will continue to pose questions in the classroom,” suggests teacher and author Maria Birbili, from the School of Early Childhood Education in Thessaloniki, Greece.
It is important that children feel as if they are engaging relevant questions for themselves, questions that complete their own relevant sense of the world that they are experiencing. If the answers they are given become too cursory, do not encourage further learning, are delivered with annoyance or are simply presented as facts, then the child will disengage and ask fewer questions, which slows their learning down. Children ought to ask questions, but to find the right questions, sometimes the adults in their life need to encourage the child’s questions, with more questions. “Mum, why is the sky blue?”. Damn, I ought to have scrubbed up on my physics, chemistry and light refraction dynamics, thinks Mum. She pulls out her phone instead to Google it. No reception. She looks down at the face of her expectant little girl, who is waiting for her response. Have you ever had to answer this type of question? Most of us do not have science knowledge, and even if we did – would the child find the science answer relevant to their own level of awareness? Likely not.
We can start describing how blue light disperses through the atmosphere, and this interaction of light moving into our eye translates as blue, and maybe that explanation is part of what you say to your 4 year old, and that’s ok. It’s definitely better than “I don’t know, ask Siri”. But genuine learning comes from genuinely deep questions and thinking.
Try asking them an open-ended question that gets the child thinking. “Why do you think the sky is blue? Where do you think we might go to find out where to look? What colour do you think the sky ought to be? Have you noticed that sometimes, at sunset, the sky turns orange and yellow, I wonder why that is?” Open-ended questions implore creative thinking, curiosity and force the child to continue to keep thinking, imagining and exploring their mental space to come up with solutions rather than have answers served to them as neat facts. After interviewing nature connection experts Sam Robertson and Kate Rydge from Nature Philosophy, this idea of asking open-ended questions as a mentor really sank home. Sam and Kate described spending time with indigenous groups in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. These groups still lived authentically in accordance with their traditions. Kate and Sam shared with me that when children in this tribal community were going through the questioning phase, the adults around them would ask lots of questions, or even sometimes offer the children silence. Both of these methods create space and more inquiry for the children. Telling facts reduces the world, condenses it into known items and can take away some of the magic of exploration and discovery. So don’t be so concerned with filling your child's head full of known, accurate and scientific facts. Science is awesome, don’t get me wrong. But science is about questioning, experimenting and testing known ideas. Let children explore, and come up with their own answers. They will be more resilient learners and creative thinkers because of it. If a parent or mentor can model the type of curiosity that is needed to become a good learner, this is more important than having the right answer. REFERENCES: The importance of asking kids questions - https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/importance-kids-asking-questions/ Supporting Young Children to Ask Productive Questions - Maria Birbili Kate Rydge and Sam Robertson – Nature Philosophy