Research has shown when early years teachers read books in their classrooms, the questions they ask play a key role in how much children learn. But a new study in July 2019 that involved observing teachers during class story times found that they asked few questions — and those that they did ask were usually too simple.
We all know that children get to a certain age and start asking questions. In fact, at one point they seem to ask so many questions that we only seem to be able to answer half of them. We know their minds are inquisitive, but how do they learn when they are asking question after question without even waiting for a response from the one before it? And on the flip-side, what kinds of questions should we be asking?
In a study done in 2017, Dr Sam Wass polled 1,500 parents in the UK and discovered children asked on average, 73 questions per day. The study revealed that parents were able to answer less than half of them. The question asking age appeared to peak at around 4 years of age for both girls and boys.
It also revealed that question time started as early as 6am and ended at bedtime, around 14 hours of questioning. No wonder it seems exhausting. While most children seemed to ask their Father’s questions, Mothers fielded at least 413 questions a week.
I think as busy teachers, it is easy to forget how curious children are around the world around them and the impact well structured questions have on learning. We forget simple information to them, is exciting and new and they want to know it NOW.
Sometimes the questions are tricky and uncomfortable, and may be about topics you don’t know how to answer as an educator.
What Questions Do I Need To Be Asking?
Only 24 percent of what teachers said outside of reading the text were questions, the results found. And the kids answered those questions correctly 85 percent of the time.
“When kids get 85 percent of the questions right, that means the questions the teacher is asking are too easy,” said Laura Justice, co-author of the study and professor of educational psychology at The Ohio State University.
“We don’t want to ask all difficult questions. But we should be coaxing children along cognitively and linguistically by occasionally offering challenging questions.”
The researchers recorded 5,207 questions asked by teachers and 3,469 child responses.
About 52 percent of the questions asked by teachers were yes-no type questions, such as “Does he look happy?” As expected, most of them resulted in one-word answers from children.
The other 48 percent of questions included “what” and “why” questions like “What did he do?” and “Why do you say ‘friends’?”
Asking more complex, procedural type questions led to more complex, lengthy answers that involved more critical thinking. It led to the discovery, from the child’s point of view, of new information.
Story time should always involved lots of questions, opportunities for though, exploration and critical thinking. It should allow for the discovery of new information and include opportunities to extend children’s language and thinking abilities.
Great questions often engage the child on a personal level asking them how they think and feel. For example “How do you think ______ will happen?” “How do you feel about ____?” Such questions encourage a thought provoking response and allow opportunities for growth.
So What Can I Do To Help Answer Children’s Questions?
The first thing to remember is regardless of the question being asked, to give a response appropriate to the learning age and understanding of the child. If a 3 year old asks “Where do babies come from” it is going to be an entirely different answer to that of a teenager when talking about sexual intimacy and what and when it is appropriate. Sometimes, the use of books or toys can be helpful in answering questions, especially those of a difficult nature.
There are some great books and toys around that satisfy a child’s curiosity but can be used to explain in a way they can understand. This is especially helpful if you have a child in your care in a difficult home situation such as domestic abuse, or have been through challenging experiences such as sexual abuse or a death in the family. While we don’t pretend to be psychologists or other health professionals, we can have a part to play in helping children understand emotion when related to relevant questions.
Some great books are on the market now that deal with these topics for small children. It is also important to remember to give accurate information. You don’t want to lie, or make up something that isn’t real to avoid a question, but monitoring the amount and content of the answer and matching it to the child’s ability to understand is really important.
10 Most Asked Questions
If the child has not reached this stage yet, here is a head’s up. According to the study, these were the top 10 most challenging questions.
1. Why do people die?
2. Where did I come from?
3. What is God?
4. How was I made?
5. What does “we can’t afford it” mean?
6. Is Father Christmas Real?
7. Why do I have to go to school?
8. When you die who will I live with?
9. Why is the sky blue?
10. Why can’t I stay up as late as you?