As children grow and develop, their curiosity about the world around them grows too. They begin to ask questions about everything, from how the world was made to why the sky is blue. These big questions are an essential part of their learning and development. And as early childhood educators, you’re often the one who is fielding the questions!
Tackling these big questions can be challenging at times, but knowing what’s coming and being prepared can help a lot. It’s important that children can feel comfortable to ask these questions, and it’s also important that educators are equipped to know how to best respond.
It’s another way that educators have a pivotal role in children’s development and laying the foundation for their future, so let’s explore strategies to get it right.
The importance of children asking questions
Children are naturally curious about the world around them. Their questions are a way of exploring and learning about the things they see, hear, and experience. By asking questions, they gain a deeper understanding of the world and how it works.
Questions also help children develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. When children ask questions, they learn to think for themselves, to evaluate information, and to develop their own ideas.
Support young people to know how to ask the right questions
As children grow and develop, it is important to support them in asking productive questions. What is a productive question? These are questions that lead to deeper thinking and learning.
To help children ask productive questions, you can educate them by:
1. Introducing open-ended questions
Open-ended questions allow children to explore a topic in-depth and gain different perspectives. When you ask open-ended questions, you tend to get better answers as they usually require a response beyond a simple “yes” or “no”. Encourage children to ask questions that start with “What,” “How,” and “Why.”
2. Role-modelling asking questions
Children learn by example, and if they see adults asking questions, they are more likely to ask questions too. When you are with children, demonstrate curiosity and model asking questions about the world around you. For example, “I wonder why the leaves change colour in autumn?”
3. Promoting asking follow-up questions
When children ask a question, help them to think about follow-up questions. For example, if a child asks, “Why is the sky blue?” you can help them think about follow-up questions such as, “Does the sky always look blue? What happens at sunset?”
4. Giving them time to think
Sometimes children need time to think about a question before they can ask it. Be patient and give children time to process their thoughts and formulate their questions.
Handling children’s tough questions
Chances are you will be faced with big questions from children that are sometimes challenging or difficult to answer. Don’t worry — you’ll be able to handle it! Here are some tips on how to tackle those tough or big questions:
1. Be honest
Children value honesty, so be honest with them when you don’t know the answer to a question. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know the answer to that question, but maybe we can find out”. Or in some instances, it might be appropriate to suggest a question isn’t one that is for you to answer, then speak to a parent or carer about addressing it with the child.
2. Keep it age-appropriate
When answering tough questions, it’s important to consider the child’s age and maturity level. Give an answer that is appropriate for their level of understanding.
3. Be respectful
When answering tough questions, it’s important to be respectful of different beliefs and opinions. Even if you don’t agree with a particular belief, it’s important to show respect for others.
4. Use resources
If you don’t know the answer to a question, use resources such as books, videos, or the internet to find the answer. This is a great opportunity to model research skills to children too.
The role of the educator in children’s exploration
Educators play a crucial role in teaching children how to ask questions and think critically. In fact, if children are asking questions it probably means they feel like can safely explore the world from the early childhood education environment you have created which is a great thing.
As educators, we should be giving children opportunities to explore and investigate topics they are interested in, including being encouraged to ask questions.
We can further harness children’s curiosity through play-based learning activities that are centered in inquiry and research — investigating, reading, listening and finding answers. Highlight the value of collaboration with peers, educators and carers when it comes to learning. After all, understanding that we can all learn from one another is a skill for life.
For more helpful information about early childhood education, check out our blog.