Mommy, why is the sky blue? Dad, why is that man wearing a hat?

Why do we wash our hands before dinner?  Why do the germs get on them?  Why does the soap help get them off?  Why?  Why?  Why? You might wonder why anyone would want to teach their child to ask a question after fielding a few from a 3- or 4-year-old intent on discovering ALL the ins and outs of the world in one sitting.  However, asking and answering questions are important steps for inquiring about others, learning about our world, and demonstrating knowledge.

Wh-words tend to emerge in the following sequence: (a) what, where; (b) who; (c) when, how and why, in variable order.

If you're wondering how your child is doing with their question asking and answering skills, here are some sample activities to practice at home:

            What?  While "Emily" is brushing her teeth, tying her shoes, etc., ask “what are you doing?”  If she struggles with an answer, give her two options (“Are you brushing your teeth or cleaning your hair?”)  If she answers easily with two options, increase the difficulty by asking the question (“What are you doing?”) followed by an absurdity, “Are you painting your room?”  This should clue her in on what you are expecting for an answer.  No mom/dad, I’m putting on my shoes!

            Where?  While playing with the dollhouse, ask Emily “Where does the Mommy go?”  Once all figures are in place, ask “Where is the baby?”  Again, if she struggles to answer after enough pause time, give her two options or an absurdity.  “Where is the baby?  Is she eating dinner in the bathroom?”  No mom/dad, she’s in the kitchen eating dinner! 

                        On the way to friend’s house, home, etc., ask Emily “Where are we going?”  Again, give two options if she struggles to answer (“Are we going to Molly’s house or to swim lessons?”)

            Who?  During play with the dollhouse, ask “Who is in the kitchen?”  If Emily struggles to answer, point to the correct figure and repeat “Who is in the kitchen?”  While driving by a neighbor’s house, ask “Who lives there?”  If she has difficulty answering, give her two options or use an absurdity, “Who lives there?  Does Santa Claus?”  No Mom, Joey lives there, not Santa Claus!  If she has no idea, model the correct answer for her by saying “Joey.  Joey lives there.  That’s who lives there.”

            When?  When- questions are a little harder because they deal with temporal relationships.  Start with questions that are more concrete and have answers that don’t change; give two options or an absurdity as necessary.  For example, “When do we brush our teeth?  Before dinner or after dinner?”

            How?  Why?  Again, start with more concrete examples that aren’t likely to change, and/or have specific actions associated with them.  For example, “Why do we wash our hands?”  “We wash our hands to get the germs off, that’s why we wash our hands.”  “Why do we need an umbrella?  Because it’s sunny or because it’s raining?”  “Because it’s raining, that’s why we need an umbrella.”  OR “Show me how you brush your hair.  Yes, that’s how you brush your hair.”  “How does Mom brush her hair?  Yes, like that, that’s how Mom brushes her hair.”