Answer by Eva Glasrud:
When I'm around kids, I ask them questions all the time. The point is to make them wonder and help them think critically. A lot of adults like to tell kids things. In fact, I'll often ask a child a question, and a nearby adult will answer for/to the child.
But I really think it's better to ask kids questions about everything — even when the original question came from them.
Child: "How do I draw a dog?"
Adult: "That's a really great question, [child's name]! Where do you think we should start? What's the first part of the dog we should draw? Then what? Want to try it? We can always try again if we mess up."
And if they get it wrong, don't stop them and say, "No, that's wrong. Do this." Let them make mistakes. And then ask them,
Adult: "Uh oh! It looks like we did something wrong. Does any part of the dog look wrong? How can we fix it? What should we do differently next time?"
If you're having fun and it seems appropriate, you can even ask questions like:
Adult: "Great work! You put a lot of thought into your drawing, and it shows! But I wonder if that's the only way to draw a dog. What do you think? Is that the only way? Or might there be other ways?"
This gets them thinking — and teaches them to test, iterate, and try again. It shows them that many problems have more than one solution.
And, just as important, it teaches them to persevere when things don't go right the first time. It teaches them that it's okay to take a risk, and that it sometimes takes a few tries to get it right.
I really can't speak highly enough of how great it is to engage kids through dialogue. Here are some other examples of conversations I've had with kids recently that will help explain why:
While playing outside on a longboard
Adult: "[Child's name], where do you think the skateboard will go faster — on the dirt, or on the sidewalk?
Child: "The dirt!"
Adult: "Why do you think it will go faster on the dirt?"
Child: (says some explanation)
Adult: "That's a very interesting idea. Do you want to try it out to see if you're right?"
(We test it – the child's hypothesis was wrong)
Adult: "So what happened? Where did the skateboard go faster? Why?"
It was so great to set up a little experiment with this child and explore her thoughts with her along the way.
It's also awesome that when you ask kids questions, you often end up thinking differently, too. Kids have really interesting ideas and strange senses of humor. Here's something that happened at a playground recently:
While at the playground
Child: "I want to look for caterpillars!"
Adult: "Catepillars? Cool! Where do you look when you want to find a caterpillar?"
Child: "The air!"
The answer most people would have expected is probably, "The ground!" But in northern California, this happens in the springtime:
(He's hanging from a little piece of caterpillar string.)
So maybe that's what she meant. Or maybe she meant that caterpillars turn into butterflies. The only way see into the child's mind is by asking — not telling.
But often, like I mentioned before, my conversations with kids go more like this:
Child: "I want to look for caterpillars!"
Adult 1: "Catepillars? Cool! Where do you look when you want to find a caterpillar?"
Adult 2: "The ground. Caterpillars live on the ground. Right, [child's name]?"
It's also important to note that when a child is working on something, it's great to give them praise and feedback for their effort. It sends the message that their hard work (rather than their natural ability) pays off. It makes them more entrepreneurial and curious than careful and risk-averse.
You can often combine this effort praise with questions about the work. Try to avoid yes or no questions. Keep them more open. Like this:
Adult: "I like that you are spending lots of time covering the whole paper with paint. Can you tell me about your painting?"
Adult: "You're so good at painting. Is that a house?"
I like the first option for three reasons.
1. Effort praise.
2. What if the kid isn't painting a house? You might accidentally embarrass them. There might be a really cool story or feeling about this painting, but you'll never know now, because the child doesn't want to talk about it anymore.
3. Asking them if it's a house limits their answer to a yes or no. Leaving the question open allows them to be more creative in how they answer.
Be there to guide, but not always lead, the discussion.
You should also provide them with opportunities and resources for growth. If your kid loves animals, take them to the zoo. Or even the creek in your local park. See how many different kinds of animals you can find living there. Ask your child about what relationships the different animals might have with each other.
Let them get their clothes dirty. The cognitive and motor skills they develop playing at this hypothetical creek are so much more important than a little bit (or even a lot) of mud.
And let them love what they love. Even if what they love is toilets.
This kids' parents are awesome. They could tell Dustin, "Ew, no! Toilets are gross! Don't touch them." But instead they did this — and I really wish I saw more of this and less of the nature/animal/germ/possibility of getting hurt-ophobia.