How to handle children’s tough questions

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Curiosity about the world grows with children as they grow and develop. Questions can be wide-ranging and include classics like “why is the sky blue?” and “where do babies come from?”. These big questions are vital to their learning and development and as early childhood educators, we often find ourselves fielding these inquiries.

While tackling these tough questions can be challenging, being prepared can help. It is important that children feel comfortable asking these questions, and that educators are equipped to respond. Educators play a critical role in children’s development and laying the foundation for their future.

Answering tough questions from children

It’s important for children to ask questions

Children’s questions are a way of exploring and learning about the world around them. By asking questions, they gain a deeper understanding of how the world works.

In addition, 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.

Supporting children to ask the right questions

As children grow, it is essential to support them in asking productive questions that lead to deeper thinking and learning. 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:

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.

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?”

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.”

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?”

Tackling children’s tough questions

Chances are you will be faced with 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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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