The Art of Asking Questions… and Knowing When to Stop.
I don’t know whether it is because we live in an age of constant assessment of young children, where every activity needs to have measurable outcomes, but I think as parents and/or early years workers, we are at risk of losing the art of asking questions. By questions, I mean the open- ended, genuine kind. The kind where the questioner is honestly interested in the answer they will be told, and has no pre-conceived agenda of what the outcome should be. Perhaps this is partly why some grandparents make brilliant carers of young children; one step away from the pressures of achievement, targets and levels, many of them still retain the ability to question (and listen) in a deeper way.
I recently read this book by Michael Rosen, I thoroughly recommend it. One key suggestion he makes is:
Sometimes, without making a big deal of it, its worth ‘echoing’ (repeating the last thing the child says, but making it sound like a question.)
This is a great technique, often used by teachers with older children, too. But it requires patience, and the knowledge that the answer you receive, or the tangent you may be taken on, could deviate wildly from your pre-set agenda. I decided to try some thoughtful questioning with Little, happy to follow his train of thought in whatever way his play and ideas took us.
Cue: a basic craft- No, I’m not entirely sure what it is either- possibly a shelf of fruit and veg from the greengrocers?! Anyway, lets focus on the process, not the result, here! ? I had collected the pictures over a few weeks; popping in to our local cut-price supermarket and picking up their free in-house newsletter on upcoming sales; easy, free collage material!
I began by setting up the craft and asking some questions:
Where shall we put the carrots?
Shall we put it at the top or the bottom?
Are we finished?
What else shall we put in?
It didn’t take long for Little to join in. At first he began asking similar, functional questions, and making basic statements:
Where we put it?
Peter Rabbit likes radishes.
I put it up top there.
I wanted them carrots.
Where the glue?
Please may have glue back?
We added some toy animals, and once I stopped talking, stopped asking him questions and just sat alongside him and LISTENED, his play gained a greater depth:
Where we put the kangaroo? Boing Boing! Where you going kangaroo? On the green one? Try it, kangaroo, ok, you trying it.
Lion can’t get down! Ahh, it’s slipped down on the ground.
Your turn, Mumma, Your turn, Penguin.
You stay in here.
Parrot stays up here for ever, ever, ever.
Got you penguin, oh, your baby’s in your tummy.
That’s a enormous cage.
Sorry shark! Oh sorry, I kicked you over!
(To kangaroo) Why you got a baby in there? You huggle him?
Fly, Fly, Fly!
Hook! I got your baby out- Waa Waa! He’s got a baby already.
This is your home, you go to bed inside your home, Zebra.
Shut the door! Put them in there!
Are you gonna hide? Elelphant’s going to count… 1-2-3 ready or not!
So, what started as an ambiguous craft suggestion, ended as a mass jail/home for various pregnant animals and a giant game of hide and seek… well… I hadn’t predicted that outcome!