Encouraging Kids to Ask Questions

Legend has it that an apple once fell on Isaac Newton which led to the discovery of gravity. Apples have fallen on many people before one fell on Newton. The only difference was Newton dared to ask ‘why does an apple fall from the tree?’ Several years past, Charles Darwin asked ‘why does the moon not fall into the Earth?’ This question gave a new perspective to understanding gravity.

“From the very beginning, curiosity and learning refuse simple and isolated things: they love to find the dimensions and relations of complex situations….” (Malaguzzi, 1987, p.19)

From the moment they take their first breath, toddlers are seeking answers to questions about everything they encounter. Toddlers ask questions for the same reasons we do; to gain a sense of control and to understand the world better. They are born with an innate sense of curiosity which helps them establish a pattern of questioning. According to Paul Harris, a Harvard Child Psychologist, the whats, whos and hows make up to 40,000 questions a child asks between the ages of two to five. In fact, majority of Google searches follow the same pattern of questioning. Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google says, “We run this company on questions, not answers.”

Toddlers are always trying to get to the bottom of the things. If they find themselves dissatisfied with an answer, they will pop the same question over and over again to understand the concept better. Curiosity also helps in cognitive development, thus it is important to stimulate this trait in toddlers. Following are a few techniques which can help you do so.

  • Answering questions with questions: Respond to children’s questions with other questions. For example, questions like ‘can humans fly,’ should be answered with ‘do you think humans can fly?’ When parents answer a question with a question, they are triggering their kids to apply their knowledge to use. If your kid distinguishes a bird from a human on the basis of feathers. He would say ‘no we cannot fly because we do not have feathers.’
  • Do not answer immediately: Encourage your kids to look for answers. Provide them with different books or show them videos. You could show them videos of aeroplanes and tell them we may not be able to fly like birds but we can travel in air.
  • Develop an atmosphere for reading: Books are the easiest source of knowledge. Encourage your child to read books. Illustrated books with a lot of pictures can also persuade kids to ask questions.
  • Never ignore children’s questions. On several occasions you’ll find yourself in a position where you would not know the answer. Go out seeking for answers together. Read books and show videos on the same context. The process of seeking an answer can prove to be far more educating that the answer.

It is also important to remember that questions do not always have answers. The Fermi Paradox, named after an American physicist Enrico Fermi, is based on a single question to which no one has an answer. The contradiction of the highly estimated possibility of alien life to the lack of evidence to support its existence, made Fermi exclaim ‘Where is everybody?’ To this day, scientists are trying to answer this question.

Curiosity did not kill the cat. In fact, it created the mousetrap. Curiosity is the energy which drives people to discoveries. It fuels innovation and is the reason why we are constantly developing.  We are feeding our hungry minds with ideas and questions about our world, the stars, oceans depths or dreams (Patrick Hanlon {Forbes}, May 6, 2013). On that account, Albert Einstein has rightly said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

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