On average, a toddler asks close to 300 questions a day. Compare it to an adult who asks about 20 questions a day. Why is it that we have lost the ability to think and ask? Is it because we know everything, or that we do not care to know? Thinking about was was what prompted me to choose this particular theme on child-led learning for this year’s Blogchatter challenge.
What are the questions toddlers ask?
At about 12-15 months, once basic cognition and communication sets in, the frequency of “What if this?” increases. This is a simple vocabulary building exercise. This is followed by who, where and when. And at about 30-36 months, the wonderful world of why begins. This is wonderful because unlike the previous stage, these are open ended questions, and higher level reasoning is required.
Why should we encourage questioning?
Asking questions is the way toddlers make sense of a new and daunting world. That they are curious about something and are exploring it is a sign of a developing personality. It is a way they work on their cognitive and reasoning skills on their own. Minds that question are minds that think. Finding answers help them understand cause and effect as well, and encourage scientific attitude. When a toddler uses a different combination of question words and what she wants to ask, she is actually connecting something she knows and she doesn’t. She is then transferring it from thought form to verbal expression. No wonder then, that this skill develops speech too.
How to develop questioning skill in toddlers
Here are some basic ways in which we can encourage this skill in children.
1. Free Play
I think we adults have spoiled our minds by thinking in patterns. A child’s mind is still fresh and she is forming her own patterns. Free play using open ended toys, natural elements, etc improve imagination and let the child think in different angles.
2. Model questions
Ask a lot of questions- both simple as well as open ended ones in front of and to your toddler. Simple yes or no questions like, “Do you want dinner now?” that help a toddler make choices. Questions like “Why do you prefer pasta?” help a child think about reasons in a small way.
Questions like, “Where did the butter go? Where is it?” teach the child correct usage of question words.
3. Talking less is more
During her infancy, I was so used to yapping away- I would describe everything around us, whatever we were doing, etc. At one point of time, when she started speaking, I had to consciously reduce my giving her answers before she had even had a chance to ask the question.
4. Read a lot
Reading a variety of books with your toddler exposes her to different concepts, ideas, illustrations, words and allows her to develop lateral thinking.
Responding to questions
It is an amazing phase when the toddler has just started asking questions. But remember the 300 questions average? This got me to thinking about how I can respond better, without it sounding like a continuous Q and A session. Here are my top 3 strategies.
1. Value the question
There are days, that her repeated questions get exasperating. But it is imperative to keep in mind a toddler’s attention span, memory and the fact that she repeats herself so many times to attain perfection and connect it to previous knowledge within the brain.
Hence, let us try to get delighted and show the delight every time a question is asked.
2. Ask a question in return
It is super easy to directly give the answer to the question. Consider this example.
We saw a dead honeybee on our walk the other day. V asked me what it was doing there. I wanted to say, “I think it is sleeping. Let us not disturb her. Come.” But I asked her, “What do you think?” That is all. She bent down, stared at the bee for a long time and says, “Amma, her stinger is missing from her bum! That means she stung someone and fell!” There she got a better answer than mine all on her own! Not just that, she went on to make up a story about the bee’s friends looking for her in the garden and we went bee-hunting in the garden. It is okay even if the child does not get the right answer. Giving them time and an opportunity to think develops imagination and reasoning.
3. Reward questions
I do not mean hug her or say “good job!” or give her a gift when she asks a question. Reward the child with an experience. When she asks about leaves are of different colours, give her the experience of going on a nature walk, and picking those very leaves. When she asks about trains, try to schedule a visit to the railway station where she can see and experience one at close quarters. And when she asks about something like penguins, give her the chance to read up, research and find out about it.
This teaches the child patience, and that answers do not always come right away. Researching together and acknowledging that the adult does not know sometimes, teaches the toddler that learning never ends and is valuable.