4PARENTS: LEARNING TO QUESTION
THE IMPORTANCE OF ENCOURAGING OUR CHILDREN TO QUESTION
By Bill Zimmerman, Creator, MakeBeliefsComix.com
When I was a child I had so many questions about the world. I would seek out my mother and ask them of her. I don’t remember getting many answers because my parents often were in an emotional war with each other and struggling to survive harsh economic times. They just didn’t have the time or energy to answer a little boy’s questions, and I soon learned not to make any waves or ask many questions.
When I started elementary school, I was a slow learner. Initially, I lacked the confidence, even the vocabulary, to ask questions in the classroom to clarify the confusion I felt. It was only after a kind teacher, seeing my plight, my fearfulness in learning and speaking out, chose to spend time with me after school each day. She would draw me out, allow me to stumble with letters and words. Slowly, I began to open up and learn how to read and ask questions again. She made me feel safe by listening to me.
As the years went by, I continued asking questions and in time I found work that offered me the opportunity to pose questions to all kinds of people in high and low places – and get paid for doing so. I became a journalist, my work became my play and my school.
I never stopped asking questions, and some years ago, on a plane to attend the funeral of an aunt I loved very much, I started writing a list of questions I had about life: Why are we born? What is our purpose? What is expected of us? Why do we lose the people we love? What is important to us? These questions ultimately became a journaling book I wrote called "A Book of Questions to Keep Thoughts and Feelings". Asking the questions became my first step at finding answers.
Seeing the world through children's eyes
As parents, one of the greatest gifts we can offer our beloved children is to encourage their innate gift of curiosity, to support their eagerness to understand all they can about the world they live in, to nurture their hunger to learn new things. This means our listening carefully and willingly to the many questions they ask. We must try to see the world through their eyes.
It is important that we remember how puzzled we were as children by the things we would see or experience, and how we look to loving adults to explain things to us and help us understand the things we are experiencing, to soothe the fears we have. If, with good parenting we can try our best to answer their questions and solicit new ones from our children we honor them and show them respect. By accepting their questions, encouraging them to converse with us, we convey to them that they have value and the things that are on their mind are important and worth dealing with.
By encouraging children to ask questions about what they see or experience, we are helping them take their early, very important steps to gain some sense of control over life. We are helping establish a pattern of questioning that they will carry with them through their lives, through school, through jobs, through their relationships and interactions with others. Not only do we strengthen them as individuals, but in encouraging our children to question, we strengthen our own society. For in a fully democratic society everyone has a given and protected right to ask questions and seek answers. The answers may not always come to us that easily, but by taking our first, tentative steps to seek them out, we are on the way to finding out the truth that is important to us.
Teaching a child to ask questions is also a way to give them more confidence in interacting with others because we learn, as we grow up and go for school or job interviews, that we need to engage other people if we want them to receive us and help us. Asking questions is a wonderful way to engage people and invite them into our lives.
Knowledge of the world is built piece by piece
In raising our own daughter, my wife and I wanted her to ask questions and not just to accept things as they are given. We wanted her to see that she had the right to pin us down to the best satisfactory answer we could offer. We wanted her to question what she saw on television and be able to distinguish between what was a fact and what was an advertising message. We would ask her: Why do you think that person is saying what he is? Is he getting paid to do so? Does he believe what he is saying? Is he trying to persuade you to do or buy something? By encouraging our child to question, we insured that she did not become a passive learner, and that she was responsible, in part, for her own learning. Questioning would become her lifelong responsibility, particularly when she would grow up and not have us to protect her day and night.
We tried, too, to teach her that we didn't have the answers to all the questions she had, but that together we could find the answers if we read books and did research in the library or questioned others. We tried to teach her that most knowledge comes bit by bit, piece by piece, until, in time, we can put all the little pieces together into a larger piece of knowledge.
For those of you who are parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles or big brothers and sisters, I encourage you to sit down with the children in your life and hear out their questions and raise questions of your own to learn more about them. Doing so can give you a unique insight into how your children's minds and spirits work.
You can do this on a daily, ongoing basis, or as a special activity at night before a child goes to bed, or as a Saturday morning activity. Or, start each evening meal with a question for all the members of a family to think about and offer their views. A good, provocative group question can help draw a family closer together and its members come to know one another better. To get started, how about: What special thing happened to you today? Did you hear what happened in the news? What is your most valuable treasure? Why is it so? Or, You have two magic wishes that can come true – what are they? How would you change the world if you could?
You might even want to write down a list of questions that you can use, one by one over time, to encourage your children to think creatively and engage in conversation with you. (To help you, there are questions from my "A Book of Questions" in the printables section of MakeBeliefsComix. What you are trying to do with these questions is to gain better understanding of how your child views her world, or to help clear up any confusions the child may have on different issues.
Creating your own book of questions
You can also create a little note book, if you like, that has a question on each page that a child can come to when she wants to and write or draw her response. By writing, she takes the time to be more reflective, to think more deeply, even more imaginatively. If your child can't read yet, have her dictate an answer to you which you can then write down for her in this little book that has her name or drawing on the cover. By recording her words, you convey to your child that you believe what she says has value and is worth recording and preserving. Mark a space on each page for the date to be written which can become a record of where your child was at a particular time in her life. And keep these little journals in a safe place in the family library.
Perhaps you can even have your child draw up of a list of questions for you to answer and together you can play a game – she answers one of your questions and you answer one of hers. You can even place a question on a piece of paper with a love message in her lunch box which she can read during the day and think about. Your questions thus become a way of staying connected during the day. You can encourage your child to carry a small spiral-bound notebook around with her each day – the way a journalist does – to write down the questions that come to her as well as to make comments on interesting or unusual things she sees that day.
Here are some more questions to get you started in your question playing:
- If you could choose a new name for yourself what would it be and why?
- If you could be a sound, what would it be?
- What can you teach others?
- What funny story or joke have you heard lately?
- What do you think your life in the future will be like?
- Tell me your secret dream.
- What is the funniest thing that happened to you?
- What is the most wonderful thing that ever happened to you?
- Who is your best friend, and why?
- What beautiful thing would you like to create?
- Make a wish for someone you love.
May you find answers to the questions you ask!
(Bill Zimmerman, creator of MakeBeliefsComix.com, was editor of the nationally syndicated Student Briefing Page for Newsday newspaper which was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He is author of A Book of Questions, a new kind of diary journal. Excerpts from this book and many others he has written for children and parents can be found on his educational web site www.billztreasurechest.com )
If you like the ideas expressed in this section please share them with other parents and groups you belong to.