Ministry of Education, Guyana

Five Engaging Questions to Discover your Child’s Thinking

Not so long ago, I was walking down the street with my daughter. At each passing tree, she was determined to pick berries from the so-called “berry trees.” She pulled the berries off the tree, looked at them, rolled them in her hands, and carefully collected them in her pocket. I thought to myself, “Ugh, again? Do we really need to keep these prickly berries?” and “How long will it take for her collection of berries to decay in her pocket?”

But, after that brief moment of mom-panic, I thought, “I wonder what my daughter is thinking about as she explores these berries? What is she getting out of this?” I wanted to find out more, so I started asking my daughter engaging questions: What do you notice about the berries? How do they feel? She told me she noticed some of the berries were the same color and felt some were more mushy than others. Her answers helped me discover more about her thinking and learning.

We ask our children questions all the time. “Where are your shoes? “Can you please wash your hands?” and so on. Children are used to answering these types of questions and can answer them easily. However, there are some questions that require more thinking-power than others. We call them engaging questions and they help get your children talking about their ideas.

Asking engaging questions has a few purposes. First, when we ask our children these questions as they explore the world, we learn about what they are figuring out and what they understand. We can hear what they think and how they make sense of things. Once we listen to their ideas, we can start a conversation to help them learn more. On Hero Elementary, Mr. Sparks asks AJ Gadgets, “ Why do you think some animals have webbed feet?” AJ explains his thinking about the benefits of swim flippers and webbed feet.

The second purpose of asking questions is that our children learn from being questioned. When children hear a question, they have to think about how to answer. They turn their developing ideas into words. They hear how those answers sound to someone else and begin to build on their own thinking. They may even change their ideas a little bit depending on how their ideas sound when expressed aloud. Talking about things helps us make sense of our ideas, so when children respond to our questions, they actually understand more about their own thinking. Then, they take that new understanding to their next experience. On Hero Elementary, Lucita Sky asks, “What do we notice?” Then Sparks’ Crew shares some ideas about the strange, melted objects in the movie theater lobby.

Here are five engaging questions that will help your child think and talk about their experiences as they explore.

1 What do you notice about…?
You can find out how your child observes and experiences objects using their five senses. So from the example with my daughter, I asked her: “What do you notice about those berries?”

2 What do you notice when…?
You can find out how your child interprets a cause and effect action. “What do you notice when you pull the berry off the tree?”

3 What do you think…?
You can hear how your child connects the current experience to other experiences. Or find out how your child predicts based on what they already know. “What do you think will happen when the berries fall? What do you think happened to the berries that are on the ground?”

4 How does this remind you of…?
You can help your child connect to a memory or something they learned before. When your child connects new experiences to older ones, they tend to remember things better. “How does this remind you of the trees we saw on Hero Elementary?”

5 Why?
The king of all questions! This question helps your child think about the reasons behind what they think.

Try a few engaging questions the next time you see your child exploring their world. When your child answers your questions, give them time to finish their whole idea. When you respond, try to repeat parts of what you heard. This will let your child know you are trying to understand their idea. Plus, it lets them try to say their ideas in different ways until you truly get what they mean.

You may even want to show your child how you ask yourself questions as you go about your day. This helps our children ask themselves questions as they explore without us later on. Sometimes, I’ll say things aloud like, “Hmm, what does this remind me of?” and to my surprise, kids will turn the table and ask me more about it.


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