To be or not to be: How to ask your child questions
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears. Shakespeare is reportedly responsible for one third of the language we use today. I am not entirely sure that is accurate, but an ardent scholar of Shakespeare’s work will tell you that we use many phrases that he was responsible for coining. For example:
- All that glitters is not gold (The Merchant of Venice)(“glisters”)
- Come what come may (“come what may”) (Macbeth)
- Eaten me out of house and home (2 Henry IV)
- For goodness’ sake (Henry VIII)
- Good riddance (Troilus and Cressida)
- The game is up (Cymbeline)
- A sorry sight (Macbeth)
(You can read more here: Phrases coined by William Shakespeare)
One of Shakespeare’s more well known phrases is “To be, or not to be, that is the question”. It certainly is an important question with an equally important answer. Unfortunately, though, the answer does not require too much language. If you always asked your child “To be, or not to be?” they would no doubt become very philosophical, but it may limit their opportunities to learn new language. This is because some questions are better than others, especially when it comes to helping children acquire and broaden their vocabulary.
Here are some reasons why:
- Using questions is a language stimulation strategy that promotes a broad vocabulary range.
- Asking your child good questions encourages them to become aware of their environment – and therefore have opportunities to talk about it.
- Asking a variety of questions leads to an exposure to a broader array of words (i.e. more than nouns – verbs, adverbs, adjectives, pronouns etc)
- Asking questions encourages a discussion about events that are happening ‘right now’ but also for events that HAVE happened and those that WILL happen.
What is a good question?
That is a very good question. Questions tend to fall into two categories: open ended and closed ended questions.
Close ended questions are vital in early language development. Close ended questions require a “Yes/No” response (or a word/short phrase) and provide children with an opportunity to meet their needs. “Would you like juice? (Yes or No). Close ended questions require minimal response in terms of language output.
Using the above example, we can demonstrate a more open ended question. Instead of “Would you like juice?” you could ask, “What would you like to drink?” or, a little simpler “Would you like juice or milk?” Other types of open ended questions include:
1) Choice questions: Would you like a doll or a car?
2) ‘Wh’ questions: Who, What, Where, When and Why?
3) Experience questions: What did you do at the park? How did you feel about starting school?
4) Sequence questions: What did you do before school? How did you make it? What happened at the end of the story?
5) Reasoning questions: Why did the boy cry? What do you think will happen to the dog? What could you do to make her feel better?
Children will learn to respond to these questions as they grow. There is a hierarchy of acquisition in the development of the use and understanding of these questions. In the next blog, we will look at how Marion Blank categorised questions into four distinct levels. Essentially, children find it initially easier to respond to questions about their immediate ‘concrete’ environment. As children develop, they will be able to tackle questions that require reasoning and judgement.
Asking good questions is an important strategy to use with your child from an early age, because, all of a sudden, in the twinkling of an eye, they may be using words all the time with no rhyme or reason and it may even (but hopefully not) make your hair stand on end!
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This article was written by our speech pathologist Jenna Butterworth who is a Speech Pathology Australia member.
If you have questions about early childhood communication, contact your local doctor who will arrange for you to see a speech pathologist.