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Quitting quashing questioning

Have we any idea how many questions a mother is asked every day? One study has found that mothers are asked nearly 300 questions a day and often on far-ranging subjects. That works out at around one question every two minutes of every day or alternatively at around one 105 120 questions a year!

By Tim Middleton

We have to remember, too, that most of the time these are not just simple questions like “What is the time?” (as if a child is interested in knowing what the time is) or “What’s for supper?” These are tough questions like: Why is water wet? Where does the sky end? What are shadows made of? Why is the sky blue? How do fish breathe under water? Why do people die? Then there are the more personal ones: Why can’t I stay up as late as you? Why do I have to go to school? Many of these questions are just a reflection of the wonderfully inquisitive way a child of that age has at looking at the world.

It is further evident that while they are being inquisitive in their early years, they are also being imaginative. They love to play in their own imaginary worlds, worlds with no limits or boundaries, where the sky can be green if they want, where friends stick close by and love them.

Interestingly, the study also revealed that children’s inquisitive nature peaks at four years old. It is interesting as that is the age when children are beginning their formal education, be it in ECD or primary education. Why is it interesting and why is it at four years old that a child is most inquisitive? A lot of it is to do with the responses that children get from adults.

What tends to happen, let us be honest here, is that we as parents react poorly to such questions. Often we get annoyed or we dismiss the questions quickly; we give a bland answer and, as a result, we discourage them. At the other extreme, we become very negative and defensive to their questions; we take them as a slight on our intelligence or an attack on our understanding. We think it is a challenge to our authority, so we tend often to dismiss them very bluntly and wearisomely. A sure sign of our impatience, irritation or irrationality is to be found in our three favoured, final responses: “Ask your father!”, “Because I said so!” or “That’s just the way God made it!” The message comes across very loud and clear to children — stop asking questions! We quash questions!

Fast-forward five to 10 years and what do we find? Teachers are now desperately trying to instil in their pupils two of the most important learning skills for the 21st century, skills that are seen to be essential and fundamental for the progress of the child, skills which if a child has not gained by the age of 11 he will struggle to develop them thereafter, yet which teachers find are very difficult to instil in their pupils. What then are these two crucial skills? Our old friends Critical Thinking and Creativity — the very skills the children had naturally in abundance until they were squashed out of them by the age of four —in other words, round about the age they started school!

What then must we do? We must not simply let the little children come with their questions, but we must encourage and energise them with their critical thinking and creativity at that young age. We must not quash, but quicken their desire to ask questions and be imaginative. So, when we are asked a question we can cheerfully respond: “You know, I have to say I don’t know the answer to that. Shall we go and look it up?” By doing so, we are showing them it is good to ask questions (as well as saying it is not bad not knowing all the answers). Alternatively, we might say:“You know what? That is a brilliant question! What do you think the answer could be?” By asking that question, we are also getting them to be creative in thinking of a solution, we are helping them realise that the learning process does not just start with them, but continues with them. If we simply give them the answer every time they ask a question, we nullify their inquisitiveness; they will just come to us for the answers in the same way we might go to a shop for food.

We want children to be asking questions! The sooner we realise that, the better. Why? Because I say so? No! Because they need to! Ask your child — not their father! How many times must we tell you?
Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.
email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw
website: www.atschisz co.zw

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