Then, why do so many people feel the need to ask kids questions like this, where the answer is already known? What is a question, anyway? According to one of the google dictionary (authority on all matters, of course), a question is:
"A sentence worded or expressed so as to elicit information"When we ask a child, "What colour is my shirt?" what kind of information are we eliciting? We probably aren't really wondering what colour our own shirt is, unless we're colourblind. No, instead we're wondering if the child knows what colour the shirt is. Of course we'd like our child to learn colours, but using these types of questions doesn't teach anything; it tests. And parents don't need to test their children.
In my work, I see lots of parents interacting with their children, and one of the main conversation strategies that parents use is questions. Parents seem to love to ask their kids questions. And, why not? It seems like this would be a way to get children to talk, right? It's difficult to have a conversation with someone who has little or no words, like a kiddo or baby, so often we resort to interrogatives to help us along.
Here's the thing: what questions really do is shut down a conversation by limiting what the child can talk about. Take these examples:
- Child: [playing with a train]
- Mom: "What colour is this car?"
- Child: "Green" [pushes train up the ramp]
- Mom: "Good job! It's green. Where is the train going?"
- Child: "To work."
- Mom: "Where does the train work?"
- Child: "Rail yard."
- Child: [pushing a train up the ramp]
- Mom: "The green train's going up, up, up! My train is going to the store." [moves her train along the track]
- Child: "Mine going to work in the rail yard."
- Mom: "I bet that's hard work."
- Child: "Yep. But he strong."
When we add language in the form of comments to a child's play, they learn sentence structure as well as concepts such as colours, direction (up/down, etc), numbers, and much more. We are, without even trying, teaching our children just by talking! Children also often feel comfortable expanding and adding their own comments to the play when they aren't being "tested" with too many questions.
The other benefit to decreasing questions is that it gives us a chance to sit back and see where the child wants to direct the play, instead of pulling the child's language to our ideas. Then, we can follow their interest, which will keep them talking more and longer. Asking a child to play based on our ideas is the equivalent of asking you guys to discuss my favourite TV show...whether you like it or not.
Some ideas to use instead of questions:
- Comment on what your child is doing. (ie: "Your train went down the mountain! Weeee!")
- Comment on what you are doing in play (ie: "I'm going to make this train really long!!")
- Use phrases like "I wonder..." or "Hmm...what if..." (this is a nice way to ask a question without really asking one! :) )
- Join in your child's play physically, rather than verbally. Let your child initiate the conversation. For example, grab a train and run it on a track with your child, rather than talking at first.
And, remember not to stress too much about not asking questions. Sometimes we have to! But making sure the questions aren't the norm will allow your child to explore his creativity without too many boundaries.
For more ideas and discussion about this topic, you can check out Heather Shumaker's post.