In my “Quality Conversations” workshops, I’m often struck by how interested teachers are in how to ask children questions. We were all raised to believe that teachers in schools ask children one kind of question. You know the kind of question I mean. I call it quizzing or interrogation. “What color is it? What kind of weather do we have today? What day of the week is it? How many blocks are there? Boy, nothing destroys a child’s interest (or relationship with you) faster than one of those questions.
I remember seeing a two-year-old boy enjoying the feel of tiny pebbles at the shoreline. I squatted down and watched him. He repeated his digging in the wet sand and pulled up a handful of pebbles, smiled at me and giggled. I said, “How do they feel?” He said something like, “Squishy, good.” His grandmother bent down and said, “How many are there?” (There were hundreds!) He looked at her with a blank stare. His smile disappeared. He was not the least bit interested in how many pebbles were there. That’s not what his experience was all about. It was about understanding pebbles, water, sand, and literally digging deep into learning. He turned away from her and looked at me.
These “right answer” questions require no real thinking on the part of the child. Most children simply try to figure out what the adult wants them to say. It causes children to stop their inquiry and limits their interest in the world. Children shut down. There is no conversation or development of language and thinking. It’s a dead end. I remember when I stopped raising my hand in school because I did not want to be embarrassed by giving a “wrong” answer. I remember when my fourth grade son was asked why he never raised his hand in school. His answer? “Why should I tell the teacher something she already knows?”
I watched a four-year-old child recently during his preschool morning. The teacher asked what day of the week it was. He raised his hand and gave the “wrong” answer. The teacher, being kind, didn’t say it was wrong, but she moved onto another child. (It doesn’t matter how nice the teacher is, everyone knows you are “wrong.”) His face turned beet red and he shrunk down into his body.
Okay, so here’s my question. Why would any four-year-old need to know or even care what day of the week it is? Why do we promote this kind of questioning and focus on this kind of information with wildly exuberant, curious children?
Teachers ask, “Then how do they learn their colors, days of the week, and numbers?” Ah, that is so simple! I have the answer! Unfortunately, it’s too long and requires another blog. Let me say this as food for thought. People of my generation (I’m 66) did not go to preschool. Our parents did not instruct us. In fact, they were often shooing us away so they could get on with their housework. And yet, we all went to kindergarten knowing our colors. So how did this happen? Any thoughts? We’ll talk about that in the next blog.