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Never Ignore a Child Who Asks "Why?"

Posted by on in Early Childhood
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Anyone who has young children, teaches them, or has spent time with one knows that “Why?” is their master question. Once it starts, there’s no stopping it. Although adults do their best to come up with answers, the interrogation becomes an endless loop. When one question is answered, the next one comes right on its heels. And yet another and then another.


Soon, the adult feels like there’s no escape. He looks for a way out… changing the subject or pointing out something new. But then the new direction triggers a renewed barrage of “Why’s.” Geesh. This can be tiresome. Nonetheless, it is incredibly important for children. New connections are being made in their brains at an astounding rate. They are trying to figure things out and understand how things work. They’re not only learning, but learning about how to learn.

Research tells us that children have a curious, scientific drive from the very beginning, even before birth. Those of us who have spent time around toddlers and preschoolers have seen them behave like little investigators. They are curious and observant, using all their senses to soak up information. When something new or unexpected happens or when they figure something out, they just light up.

But then, as those same children get older, something happens to that curiosity. We hear fewer and fewer “Why” questions. Maybe somehow, they’ve learned it’s not OK to ask so many questions anymore. Maybe their curiosity was stifled.


It isn’t as if curiosity goes out of style. The need for curious people is probably at an all-time high. There are many global concerns that need to be solved and it will take people who ask questions, search for answers, and find solutions to make our world a better place. Some of the most creative and productive minds in history were question askers and solution seekers, even if this behavior was annoying to others.

So, how can we nurture curiosity? Well, we know that curious children are inspired by curious adults. If we model our own inquisitiveness and interest in finding answers, children will do the same. It is important to convey the message that being curious is valued. We can create situations that will open the questions floodgate.

I remember taking nature hikes with my group of preschoolers and turning over a piece of decomposing tree trunk. After asking dozens of questions about the creatures crawling around underneath, they would scatter down the trail in search of more logs to roll over. And, that led to… yes, you guessed it- more questions! Some of the logs were too heavy for one child to budge, so they had to use some ingenuity and teamwork to get it done. It was pleasing to stand back and watch how curiosity was sparking their creativity.

under log

When a child is curious and follows through with actions to make something happen, he feels powerful. At a time in life when most things are out of his control, this feels pretty good! And so, it becomes self-reinforcing.


We must make time for children to ask questions and to answer them and to provoke more questions. Curiosity is a quality that will have value throughout their lives, if we can keep it stoked and practiced.

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Debra Pierce is professor of Early Childhood Education at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. Ivy Tech is the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college systems, serving nearly 200,000 students annually.

Her professional background has always involved children, over the past 40 years, having been a primary grades teacher in the Chicago Public School system, a teacher of 3 and 4 year-olds in a NAEYC accredited preschool for 15 years, and a certified Parent Educator for the National Parents as Teachers Program.

Debra is a certified Professional Development Specialist for the Council for Professional Recognition. She has taught CDA courses to high school career/tech dual credit juniors and seniors in preparation for earning their CDA credentials. She also conducts CDA train-the-trainer events across the country and develops and teaches online CDA courses for several states, is a frequent presenter at national and state early childhood conferences, and is a Master Trainer for the states of Minnesota and Arizona. She was also awarded the NISOD Teaching Excellence Award by the University of Texas.

Debra is active in her community, supporting children's literacy and is on the board of directors of First Book in Indianapolis. Debra is a contributing author for Hamilton County Family Magazine and Indy's Child in Indianapolis.
She loves spending time with her two grandsons, Indy, who is 7 and Radley, 3.

Debra has spent the last 16 years dedicated to the success of those pursuing the CDA credential and is the author of The CDA Prep Guide: The Complete Review Manual for the Child Development Associate Credential, now in its third edition (Redleaf Press), the only publication of its kind. She hosts a website providing help and support to CDA candidates and those who train them at http://www.easycda.com
The comments and views expressed are not in collaboration or affiliation with The Council for Professional Recognition or Ivy Tech Community College.
Follow me on Twitter at /easycda

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Guest Sunday, 26 May 2019