Adults tend to talk and tell but it is through asking questions that we create thinkers. Parents and educators need to intentionally ask many different types of questions to extend children’s thinking and encourage them to analyze. A critical thinker spends time analyzing, evaluating, problem solving and decision making. Children who are taught to do so in the early childhood years will be more used to that sort of thinking as they grow and are asked to participate in more complex science, math and literacy lessons.
Young children need to be asked open ended questions and those that ask them to make choices. Young children can be offered the opportunity to answer, “What do you want to do?” Instead of dictating the topics and themes for their projects in preschool, they should be asked what they want to make and with what materials. When teachers simply select the materials and the children have no choice, an important thinking moment is lost.
One of my favorite questions to ask children is their favorite question to ask me – “Why?” Adults get weary from the constant “Why?” from children. It is not easy to spend your day explaining your every move and, often, we don’t really know why we say or do things. We have to come up with answers. We have to think. I want children to participate in that thinking. When they ask me why, I reply, “Why do you think?” and I actually want them to answer. When young children tell me they went to visit a relative, I ask why. When they tell me about their favorite color, I ask why. I ask why often. As you can imagine, many children shrug at me and said, “I don’t know.” I accept that answer and, hopefully, teach them that not knowing something is okay with me. I don’t know everything either.
When you are with young children, listen to yourself. Pay attention to the sort of questions you ask and determine how often you are stretching their intellect. They say that if you don’t ask, you will never know. That’s true of adult interactions as well as with children. If we don’t ask the questions that require analysis, we will never know just how capable the children are of considering situations and thinking critically.
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