When reading with children, parents and carers are often advised to ask children questions to help children think about or understand stories, make them look more closely at pictures, or to build in other learning opportunities such as asking children to find numbers on a page.
Sound advice that can work brilliantly, but sometimes the questions are met with blank stares, silence, or completely random comments (one that sticks in my mind particularly is ‘I really love the queen. The queen lives in a castle. Do you love the king?’ in answer to a question I had asked about a dinosaur book). Or sometimes questions might even make a child feel stressed or irritated. So how to avoid this?
Obviously, there is no right or wrong way of asking questions, what children respond to is very individual. But here are some pieces of advice that I have been given over the years, and I’m sharing them in the hope that others will find them useful too.
Count ten pink elephants
Children can take a while to process a question and then form an answer, so sometimes you may have to wait a while. To give your child a bit of thinking time, try counting ‘one pink elephant, two pink elephants’ all the way up to ten pink elephants in your head, before asking the question again.
If you have a child who doesn’t like answering questions, start each question with the words ‘I wonder?’ – ‘I wonder what will happen next?’ ‘I wonder how he/she is feeling?’ etc. That way your child can choose whether to answer or not. If your child does answer, great. If not, no problem – you were just wondering.
Model for your child
Children learn by imitation, and this applies to answering questions just as much as anything else. So you might like to ask a question and then answer it yourself: ‘I wonder how the cat is feeling? Hmm, I think that he is feeling very happy, look at that lovely smile on his face’. Modelling can also work well if you have just been on the receiving end of a random comment: ‘Yes, I’m sure that the king is lovely. But I wonder what the dinosaur will do next? I think that he might need to find something to eat.’
Recently, a small child that I was looking after became frustrated by my questions, and instructed me ‘Just read the words! Very much read it!’ Fair enough. Sometimes you just want to hear a story, let it wash over you, and hear the words as the author wrote them. After all, that’s what stories are all about, isn’t it? Pleasure and enjoyment?
At Little Storybeans, we are all about pleasure and enjoyment. There are opportunities for learning as well, but the most important thing is that the sessions are a delight to children and adults. Stories are interactive and told using music, actions, puppets, props, lights…and each session includes tea, coffee and snacks. Free trial sessions are scheduled at Littlemore Village Hall on the 10th and 17th of July at 10.00am. To book your space please email firstname.lastname@example.org