When I was a kid, I asked a lot of questions. The way my dad answered my questions encouraged me to keep asking and created a lifestyle of learning.
If I asked, “What is that big machine?”, he would not just tell me that it was a bulldozer. He would explain how the different parts of it worked and what kind of tasks it could perform. The result of my question was not just knowing the name of the machine, but understanding what a bulldozer was.
I have tried to continue this family tradition of giving good answers to questions, and it has helped our family have a lifestyle of learning too.
Part of giving good answers is also teaching your children to ask good questions. If I had seen the bulldozer and asked, “What is that thing?”, my good answer would have been preceded by a gentle rebuke for using the word “thing”, instead of “machine” or “device”. We were always taught to use the most specific word that we could so that our question would be easily understood. I think it also forced us to think more about the topic and what we already understood before we asked the question.
When your child asks a vague question, or one that is not a full sentence, try modeling a good question for them. For example, if your child points at a chipmunk and says, “What is that?”, you could reply, “Are you trying to say, ‘What is the small animal that is sitting on the rock?'” Then give them a good answer about chipmunks. If you don’t know anything about chipmunks, then suggest someone else that they could ask, or offer to research chipmunks with them. It is perfectly fine if you don’t know the answer, but seek it with your children. Children love learning with you.
Here is one example from today where I gave a good answer to Ruth’s question:
Ruth asked, “Why are the lines that go across on the World map straight, but the ones on the US map curved?”
I actually gave Ruth a short, 4 or 5 sentence explanation because we were busy, but then came back to it later. Revisiting the question worked well because I was able to make a visual and get all of the kids involved. I don’t always make visuals to answer questions, but it helps sometimes (especially when you realize that you do not own a globe).
I took our kickball and drew some lines of latitude on it. Then I held it so that the kids were looking straight at the “equator”. They said that the lines looked straight. Then I held it at an angle and they said that they looked curved. We discussed how the maps were drawn from different preservatives, and that is what caused the lines of latitude to look different on the two maps.
In the post on books, Becki mentioned this quote from The Core: “I am going to assume that your children of all ages will read (or be read) good books, have good discussions, and go to interesting places.”
Giving good answers leads to good discussions. When you give a good answer, it often leads to other questions or observations.
Elijah told us not to look at the map and then asked us if the line 60 O N passed through any US states. (First I explained that the O was a degree mark.) Some of the kids guessed “no” because we had just compared the 45th latitude on the two maps, and it passed through Maine. Actually it does pass through Alaska.
In looking at Elijah’s question, we noticed that some of the lines of latitude on the US map were tighter curves than others. I ask them why this was the case and pulled out the kickball again so that they could inspect it. Isaiah, the 6 year old, figured out that the circles where smaller near the poles and that was why the curves were tighter.
Playing off of that idea, I directed them to look at the inserts of Hawaii and Puerto Rico. I asked them which one was farther south.
When they saw that the line of latitude that passes through Puerto Rico was not curved as tightly, they knew it was farther south. Then we looked at the world map and the degree numbers in the inserts to confirm their answer.
Someone, I think Gideon pointed out that there were lines going up and down also. After drawing a few lines of longitude on the other side of the kickball, we talked about how a small island near the pole would have to be stretched to make a flat map.
Ruth asked if Greenland was really as big as Brazil, because they looked the same on the map. After a quick computer search, we found out that Brazil is almost 4 times bigger than Greenland!
Actually Greenland is slightly smaller than the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This comparison is quite amazing because the Democratic Republic of the Congo is right on the equator, so it is not stretched at all.
Because I gave a good answer to Ruth’s question, we ended up having a 10 minute discussion where everyone contributed their own questions and ideas.