To learn better, ask the right questions

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Why is the sky blue? Why can’t I climb on the table? Why can’t we go outside? When can I play? Why do I have to brush my teeth? How does that machine work? Can we buy that? Why not?

There comes a time when your child’s language skills begin to blossom, and suddenly you’re faced with a never-ending barrage of questions. While the incessant questioning might feel irritating, it’s a great sign of your child’s mental development – in fact, it’s one of the 16 Habits of Mind.

Having a questioning attitude, however, is just part of this crucial habit of mind, which helps develop key problem-solving and critical thinking skills. By deliberately teaching your child how to ask questions, you are helping your child grow the right mental muscles that will lead to deeper learning, more innovation and better analytical skills.

Here’s how to help your child figure out how to ask the right questions, at the right time, and how to find the answers that he needs.

For preschoolers
When your child is just a toddler, “why?” doesn’t always mean why. According to paediatrician Dr Greene, it might help to think about your toddler’s “why” as a bid for connection, a request for a story. You can read more about it here.

So instead of giving your child the literal facts in a boring sentence – really, a toddler could care less about Rayleigh scattering – consider just telling him about the colours of the sky. Let your child ask follow up questions, and let him take the lead on his journey of discovery – you’ll be surprised at where the initial why takes you!

For older children
As your child matures and their questions become more insistent, and more sophisticated, it’s time to help them refine their approach. Talk to them about questions - what makes a question, a question? What makes a problem? What’s the difference between the two?

When your child asks a question, turn it into a fun activity. Identify the focus of the question, then generate a list of questions about the topic. “Why is the sky blue?” can lead to all sorts of questions: Why do we see the colours that we see? What’s in the sky? What makes it blue? Why blue and not red? Why do we have different colours during sunset and sunrise? How about a grey sky when it rains? And so on. Then, head to the library or onto the Internet to find out more together.

If your child has a problem, talk through the issue with him to brainstorm solutions. Talk about your own small, daily problems and share your reasoning and solutions, so he can learn how to think through an issue. Talk to your child about his problems, and help him find many, fun ways of solving it. “How can I stop making a mess when I eat ice cream?” can lead to a bib, or to eating without clothes on, to putting on an old T-shirt to catch the drips, to eating it in the bathtub, etc.

Through all this, you want to encourage your child to treat problems and questions as a fun puzzle that may or may not be solved, and not an exam that you can only pass or fail. Keep it lighthearted and fun – don’t forget, there is no such thing as a stupid question!


This is part seven of a 16-part series on Habits of Mind. Follow the series here.

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