Wondering Why, with Your Child, is Worthwhile | exSTEMsions

Wondering Why, with Your Child, is Worthwhile

Children and the “whys”

My children are 4 and 6. If you have any children, you know that parents live squarely in the world of “Why…?” There are NO limitations on the things my kids will ask “why” about. The whys in my house are what I think of as “curious whys” (as opposed to other kinds, like sarcastic whys…): my kids are looking at the world around them and wondering what on earth is going on, pretty much all the time. They even ask why about things that have no why we will ever be able to determine, like “why does our puppy like to sleep with her tail in her mouth?” So, if I might now ask a why question myself, why are we talking about this? Well, as our children grow up, the whys (except for the sarcastic ones) largely go away. At a certain point, most of us stop asking why, and start accepting that the world is just the way it is. Some parents might rejoice in this - but we think it’s actually sort of sad, and not at all what we want.

Asking why is about being curious

As much as part of me really looks forward to being out of what one of my friends refers to as “why-purgatory”, more of me hopes that it will never go away. What I really hope is that my kids’ whys will grow up with them. What does that mean? Well, it means that as they get older, I hope that they maintain their curiosity, and their desire to ask why, but that their questions, and the strategies that they develop to go about settling those questions, mature. Today when my kids ask why, many times it’s related to something that is really hard to explain, given their knowledge base or limited life experience, and while I try, they can’t always absorb what’s really happening; they just aren’t quite ready. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t wonder, but what I look forward to is when they reach a point where they wonder, “Why…?” and then think, “Hmm, how could I go about figuring that out?” and head off to explore. We practice exploring together now, so that they can follow their curiosity, independently, in the future.  

Asking why is a vital skill

Asking why is a valuable life skill. Wondering why is worthwhile. And it’s more than just things like “Why is the sky blue?” This skill is about not just accepting everything around you as the way it is, but wondering things like, “Why do we do it like that?”, or “Why can't we do this more efficiently?”, or “Why does that make sense?” I want my kids to question, because questioning is where we grow. Our problem this week is one where we ask “Why is ____ happening?” and that’s a key question. It’s not only about the answer per se, but also about why it works. To have that understanding, you have to be able to do some wondering, and be curious about how and why things in your world happen. It’s a small example, but it speaks to a larger point, that wondering why, being curious, and keeping our eyes open to our world (and our kids’ eyes open) is important. Wondering why is the first step to positive change. Asking why is what helps keep us all moving forward, growing, and learning.  Be the head wonderer. Ask why, be open, and the kids around you might just do the same.

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Mathematical Thinking
Learning with Children