by Amanda Janquart
There are always going to be questions. Questions upon questions, head tilts and scrunched noses. Toddlers and preschoolers are at the top of their game. The last thing we want to do is make them stop (most of the time!). The zest for investigating and deducing is where the seeds of learning are most fertile. Our work is to keep the seeds growing by sprinkling on some water without causing a flood.
My favorite strategy is to simply pause when a child asks a question. Let them know I heard with my own head tilt. Stretch the pause out until I can’t bear it, then answer back with a question of my own. I don’t jump to the answer and take away the opportunity for them to put critical thinking skills to work. Of course, there are many questions that benefit from immediate answers, but I’m on the lookout for those investigative ones that we can take deeper. When a child found an “egg” in our compost pile, we didn’t say, “Actually, that is an avocado pit.” Instead we asked, “Have you seen an egg like that before?” “Does it seem fragile?” “I wonder how it got here, next to all these food scraps.” The egg came inside with us as they wanted to take care of it. A book about eggs was set out and children looked hungrily for one that matched theirs. Nothing was a fit and it was decided that we should ask Grandma Bette. On our way to her room, a hammer was added to a teacher’s bag. Bette thankfully didn’t spill the beans and it was decided that we should see what was inside the egg. After cracking it apart, children still left school that day without the “right” answer. As hard as it is to zip our adult lips, it’s OK to leave them with an unanswered question, or even a wrong conclusion. The next week however, avocados were added to our snack list!
Giving them the answer stops them in their tracks. Creating an atmosphere that invites questions and asking plenty ourselves keeps children curious. Not knowing where it will take us is the root of the fun.Walking though the woods, a child called out, “I just found dog poop in the trees….it’s my first time!” It really was a spectacular sight. We commented to the child, “My oh my, that is really high. I wonder how a dog got up there.” There were plenty of theories at the ready. “The dog was really high.” “It grew a lot.” “He just climbed up.” They were asked if it smelled bad. “Oooh yeah!” Surprisingly, or not so surprisingly at this age, everyone was in agreement. It smelled bad only to the children. But then some started to think and reason out loud. “I think it’s a dead Roly-poly.” “I don’t know, I think it’s horse poop.” “I think it’s a dead Woolly Bear.” “Dog poop is black, so it’s dog poop.” Taking a sample with us, the hike moved on. Lo and behold, we stumbled upon scat on the ground that we had identified as dog poop just last week. The children were asked if both specimens looked the same. Some clearly clung to their original theory of poop in trees. “That one (on the ground) got rain on it. That’s why it changed color.” Some were rethinking. “This is real poop, because it’s brown and Bracken’s poop was brown.” Once inside, the sample still with us, a child ran unprompted to find a laminated sheet of scat identification from our book basket. Pointing at possibilities, many were ruled out, but more were added. “That’s shaped like a dinosaur.” “That’s moose poop alright. I see brown inside it.” “I think it’s rabbit. Because rabbit has brown in them.” On and on this went. Magnifiers and binoculars were found, again by the children, and used to take a closer look. Discussion continued, and then waned as attention turned elsewhere, leaving the question of the find’s true identity unanswered – for now. And that’s how I’ll leave you, too. Happy questioning!