How important are open ended questions for kids?
Welcome back for another (hopefully informative) article on BestCaseParenting.com! As the website name suggests, we do like to discuss parenting, and the qualities of a good parent. Today, I want to talk about the importance of asking kids open ended questions. In my eyes, this is one of the key parenting skills.
For the quick answer, I will say that open ended questions are a key part of a young child's learning and development of communication skills. This is because they allow a child to express their ideas and thoughts in full. You are giving them the chance to open up and practise their communication skill. Open ended questions require more thought and effort from the parent, but the outcome for your child will be worth it.
This article is, as you can see, a more specific one about the importance of asking open ended questions. If you are looking for a more complete guide on how to get your child talking, we have another article on this website exactly about that. Simply click HERE to take a closer look!
Now for the full explanation on the importance of asking open ended questions!
Why are open ended questions for kids important?
To start with, we need to go back to the core of Early Years education to answer this. When we teach young children, we are giving them the building blocks that they will use for many years to come.
Let us think of it like this. When we have a baby, we will literally spoon feed the baby all the food they need. Clearly, they have no choice in the matter!
What would happen if we continued to spoon feed a child all the way up until school age?
Would they have food preferences? (possibly only by spitting out certain foods)
Would they have a deep understanding of the food they are eating?
Can they form opinions about food?
Of course, the answer to most of those questions would probably be no!
Maybe it’s not the greatest example in the world, but hopefully you get the general idea.
When we are asking closed questions, we are literally spoon feeding a child. We are not allowing that child any opportunity for critical thinking. This spoon feeding also lowers a child’s responsiveness and tendencies to explore things. This is because they get used to relying on a constant flow of information with very little thinking needed on their side.
Closed questions that are hear often from parents are things such as:
"Did you have a good day at school?"
"Are you happy with your new shoes?"
"Did you see that cool new book I bought you?"
All of these closed questions are encouraging a very short answer. Often, the child can just answer "yes" or "no" and be done with it. Of course, it is possible a child may naturally say more, but the adult is not really encouraging it! This is very important for children that are not naturally talkative, which is a lot of kids!
This is why open ended questions are such an important tool for a young child’s learning. They are being taught to think for themselves and express ideas fully! This is where thinking skills for kids start!
When you are an adult, most jobs require a lot of thinking and problem solving skills.
For example, if you are a sales person, do you think someone is sending you a steady line of customers that are 100% ready to buy? In most cases, you would have to think about the best way to source potential customers. Most people you see might not even want to buy your product or service. You would need to think of a sales technique to “close them”.
In short, nothing in life is simple. As an adult, nothing is given to you on a silver platter (unless you are royalty or from a rich family!!). That means we need to prepare our children for this complex world. The earlier we can get children thinking for themselves, the better.
As an Early Years teacher, I have been taught to never just give a child information. As much as possible, we need to tease possibilities out of the child. This is equally true when it comes to key parenting skills! Developing thinking skills for kids is one of the important qualities of a good parent (in my humble opinion anyway).
From this process, you will also start to see much more creative and independent thinking children in your household.
This process also helps a child to learn to reason and weigh up situations better.
These are the key building blocks a child can use to increase their potential to have a successful life as an adult!
What do open ended questions for kids look like?
As you probably already know, an open ended question is simply one which doesn’t have a simple or closed answer. It is a question with an “open” or wide ranging set of answers.
The question here is what does that actually look like when dealing with a young child?
Conversations are much more engaging for a child when you include open ended questions. Given the opportunity to think and weigh up possible answers, this conversation will be more likely to hold that child’s interest and attention. Having a more open style of conversation allows the child to feel more ownership of the conversation too, due to a higher level of input.
This will, in turn, encourage the child to engage in more conversations. Those conversations will be of higher quality and longer length. This will almost undoubtedly improve their language skills significantly.
When possible, try to engage in conversations with more open ended questions. I am of the believe that the reason why some adults get stuck asking too many closed questions to young children, is because a lot of the time these questions will be a part of daily routines. By asking closed questions, these conversations are usually sped up somewhat, and in turn make life a little easier for the adult.
This is another thing that I learned from teaching. Never do things because it makes your life easier. For example, don't choose an activity because it is easy for the adults to clear away afterwards. Choose the one that has the best learning opportunities for the children.
This is the mantra I have for a lot of things in my teaching.
Of course, I am not asking you to ALWAYS ask open ended questions. That would probably drive both you and your child wild! However, taking the time to include more open ended questions would be of great benefit to your child’s development.
How to ask more open ended questions?
More open ended questions should be naturally included in your day to day communication with your child. There are a multitude of ways you can do this, simply by tweaking the way that you talk.
So, rather than asking:
“How was school today?” you could ask “What was your favourite thing about school today?” or "Can you tell me about what you did today?"
The first question would most likely get an answer such as “good” or “alright”, whereas the second is inviting the child to expand more on their answer. The third is a hybrid option. Technically, it is a closed question, but it is implying that you want your child to expand more on what they got up to.
I find that a lot of children are fascinated by the world around them. This means they show interest in finding out how things around them work. I have discovered these moments yield some of the best opportunities for open ended questions for kids.
For example, if you have a hoover in your home and one day your child says “How does the hoover suck things up?” More often than not, the adult will want to launch into a fully fledged explanation straight off the bat. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is teaching the child a lot about the world around them. However, it would be an even better learning experience if you asked the child first questions such as:
“How do you think the hoover sucks things up?”
“What parts are on the hoover?”
“What do you think those parts are for?”
“What happens when we turn the hoover on?”
“I wonder why that is?”
In this way, you are guiding the child to think about this as much as they can first. They would have to pull from past experiences, link them to what they are seeing and come to a conclusion. All of this is incredibly valuable to a child's thinking skills. They might not be able to work the complete answer out themselves. But you are, at least, brainstorming ideas with them before you tell them the answer.
When using this technique with a young child, the adult can pretend to be dumb and not know the full details. This is encouraging your child to teach you and try to explain their ideas to you. Of course, you should try to do this in a subtle way, slowly inputing your adult knowledge one piece at a time.
Adding this to your arsenal of parenting skills (if you haven't already), will go a long way to developing thinking nd communication skills for your kids.
How about some more examples of open ended questions in action….
When reading a book, if your child asks you about something in the book. Don’t always tell them straight out. Ask a counter question such as “What do you think it is?” “Have you ever seen something that shape before?" Something to get the child thinking before you just hand over the answer!
Even when working on mathematics, we try to use some principles associated with open ended questions. When a Math problem has been set and the child has offered an answer. We don’t always simply tell them if the answer is right or wrong. We can sometimes ask the child to check their own answer for accuracy first.
Instead of telling the children that we are going to make a bar chart to show how everybody gets to school, we want to get ideas first. How would we find out how everyone gets to school? What would be the best way to record that information? Give the children a greater input and they will feel more ownership of the process, with the by product of thinking and talking more!
I would usually have a bit of a joke with some of the children in my class and keep asking them why? Why? Why? To their answers. But there is a serious point here. We need to be careful to vary our open ended questioning. Tacking Why? Onto most questions does open them up, but this will get old quickly with the children if you do it too often.
And, like I said above, you need to be selective. Choose moments when you feel open ended questions work best, rather than just using them all the time. If you are unsure, experiment and see the results for yourself!
Well, I hope you have enjoyed this article. It is in no means a definitive guide for open ended questions, but hopefully it will at least give you a good solid base to build on.
As far as parenting skills go, developing thinking skills for kids is sometimes underrated!
It's equally important as any of those other qualities of a good parent.
As usual, if you have any questions regarding this matter, feel free to post them below.
Further reading on open ended questions
Unfortunately, I don't have the time on a website to go into these issues in a full and complete way. I mean, who would plow through a 10000 word article on a parenting website?? Probably not many!
This is why I try to keep my articles short, sweet and (hopefully) to the point. To start the thinking process for the parent, and hopefully encourage them to look into the issue further.
There are, of course, many more complete resources out there if you wish to continue educating yourself in the art of open ended questioning.
Here, I will give you a couple of recommendation for something you could read if you want to do this.
If you want to find out the latest information on these books on Amazon, simply click on the picture of the book cover.
This Anytime Conversation book, is a simple book to give you ideas for questions that will help your child open up more and express their ideas.
This book, as the name suggests, also has some great ideas for question, and they are neatly divided up into subsections. This book also explains some principles behind asking these questions, which is great. However, be aware the author is a Christian, so some of these religious elements do come into the book content from time to time.