“I wonder why?”: How to instil a sense of wonder in your child’s life
By Emma Daniels
Why is the sky blue? Why don’t planes fall out of the sky? Why does it rain? Why doesn’t it snow in the middle of Australia?
Did you know that in the first five years of a child’s life their brain is creating more neurological connections and pathways than it will in any other time in their life?! Mind boggling isn’t it?
All children are born with the desire to connect to their world in some way. To learn about it and understand it. Our job as parents, educators, and significant people in their lives is to help instil a sense of wonder in our little people. And though it can be hard – encourage the ‘why’.
My brother and I often fall into some form of discussion on ‘why?’ whenever I go down to visit. We inevitably continue a variation of the discussion of how children learn;
- Mainstream education vs. alternative education
- how neurological pathways are formed
- how do we raise independent thinkers
- how can we adapt to allow for freedom of thought from birth
My brother knows I am a teacher and this is my jam! So he tailors his questioning to this specific area of development. One of the things I love and admire most about him is his questioning mind. He doesn’t take things at face value, he keeps searching until he finds the answer, and good on him! Hence why there is always something new to discuss on the same topic. He goes away and researches some more and comes back with more questions or discussion points. I aspire to raise a child who thinks and learns in the way my brother does.
So often, in our society, I feel we are discouraged from questioning the status quo.
My brother was one of those kids who always asked why, and often got labeled as the ‘bad kid’. He wanted to understand why things were happening, what was expected or why things were the way they were. Often, unfortunately, his teachers would shut down this questioning with, “it just is that way,” or “because I said so.” They attempted to stop that questioning in its tracks. Possibly because they themselves didn’t know, or they perceived the questioning as disrespectful. Maybe they were just too busy and didn’t have time. Now, I believe, we are lucky because my brother is just as stubborn as my whole family and never lost his sense of wonder. He still asks why, probably more so now than then.
Our Mum and Dad have always encouraged us to ask why, and they themselves continue to ask why and search out answers. So luckily, this offset the damage that could have been caused by shutting down his questioning mind. However he did detach from school, which is sad but all too common, for ‘those’ kids! Children are so very capable of understanding, comprehending, processing and applying complex information when given the opportunity and the tools.
So, how do we instil a sense of wonder in our children’s lives? How do we encourage them to respectfully and openly question the world around them? How do we show them HOW to think, not WHAT to think?
Let’s go through some simple things you can incorporate into your day to help encourage wonder in your child’s life. Let’s celebrate, encourage and prioritise ‘why?’
Proudly admitting we don’t have all the answers!
Because we don’t…. In fact, when a child asks you something you don’t know the answer to, it is far more valuable to say, “I don’t know, shall we find out?” rather than dismissing it out of hand. In this way we are showing our children that:
- a) it is ok to not have all the answers
- b) just because we are grown-ups doesn’t mean we know everything and that learning is lifelong!
- c) when we follow the “I don’t know” with “shall we find out?” We then model for our children how to search for answers… an invaluable skill.
Searching for answers….
Now here is the important part. It is super easy to just give an answer if we know it, but what are we teaching our children when we do this? We are teaching them that we have that knowledge, we are teaching them to come to us to ask all the questions. Consider this, if next time your child asks ‘why?’, rather than giving them the answer straight out, how could you show them how to find the answer themselves? The lesson is far more likely to stick if your child has a hand in the learning. Not only that, you are teaching them to wonder, to question, to ponder the ‘why?’ and develop those important skills of fact finding! After all, if we don’t question what is, how do you think we get to what could be?
There is a practice that we use in early childhood called ‘sportscasting,’ coined by developmental theorist Magda Gerber. Much like the commentator at your favourite sporting match, we talk out loud about what is happening, simply the facts. This helps to develop children’s language, takes away the uncertainty of what’s next, but more importantly it shows the children how we are thinking and how we came to a conclusion. For example; if I have a table that has lost a wheel. Rather than simply screwing the wheel back on and going about my day. I might say:
- “Oh, I found a wheel, I wonder where it came from?”
- “I see this table is missing a wheel, it is all wobbly.”
- “I wonder why it fell off? We did move the table before. Maybe it was loose and came unscrewed?”
- “I am going to lift the table, is there anyone around it? No, all clear, ok.”
- “Hmm, it isn’t broken, it looks like it just came unscrewed. I am going to screw it back in and see what happens when I move it.”
- “All screwed in, what happens when I move it?”
- “I’ll try back and forth, I can see that the other wheels aren’t moving, I wonder if the brakes are on?”
- “They are on! That must be why the wheel came off, we moved the table without unlocking the wheel. We will have to remember to unlock it when we move the table next time.”
It may seem like a lot to say out loud, but really it is just vocalising our internal dialogue when faced with a problem. In this way our children can hear and see what we do to solve it.
Showing our children the ways we find answers, explaining why we used that method helps to teach them how to think, not what to think.
These are just some of the ways we can instil wonder in our children, by wondering ourselves. Let’s teach our children to never be satisfied with the status quo, to respectfully seek out answers and in this way, they will change the world!
In the words of the incomparable Stephen Hawking, “I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions. Occasionally, I find the answers.”