Preschoolers and "I Don't Know"

Preschoolers and "I Don't Know"

So many questions!

A child’s curiosity is what drives their deep love of learning. Four year olds are champion question askers.Their minds are opening up to the broader world and they have the capacity to ask about everything - and they do!  Although it can be tiresome for adults, their constant questioning is incredibly valuable. With a shift of perspective and practice these questions can be experienced as a gift rather than a burden.

Really hear the question

When your child asks something, do what you can to really give your full attention to the question. Perhaps, even repeat the question so you really understand what they are asking. Often questions come in the midst of doing something else - like preparing dinner, changing their younger siblings diaper or driving to the store. This can cause us to not take in the question that is being asked.


If you can not attend to the question at that minute, ask your child to wait.  You could say “That sounds like a really interesting question, in a minute I can listen to it again and we can talk about it!”  See if you can treat each question as a gem, a precious opportunity to share wonder with your child and to invite them to a deeper understanding.  

Make time for wonder

A question opens a field of opportunities. For sure, it presents a teachable moment, a moment when the child’s curiosity leads to deeper learning through your answer. It is also an opportunity to wonder together. If your child asks “Why are clouds sometimes white and sometimes gray?” This is a wonderful teachable moment about the water cycle. And, you get an extra benefit if you pause for a moment of wonder before you anwer.


This pause nurtures their own curiosity and deep thinking and creates a wonderful moment of connection. It also can give you a moment to reinvestigate what you think you know! To invite wonder you might say “Hmmm, I’ve noticed that also. I wonder why that is the case…” 

Ask them

A wonderful follow up to sharing wonder is to ask your child what they think! Sometimes a question is a search for an answer, but sometimes it is a search for connection and conversation. Asking them what they think helps them turn the question over in their own minds first. You may get some delightful answers. Remember that this is not a test to see if they can figure out the answer. This is an exercise in deeper thinking. It is also a chance to connect and talk about something they are wondering about. 

Delight in the unknown

Sooner or later, your child will ask you something you do not know the answer to. This is a magical moment. Letting your child know that they have asked something that you do not know the answer to can be intriguing and stimulating for them. You can thank them for their question - because it will give you the opportunity to learn something! What do you do with those questions? First wonder about them together! Then you can create a “research list”.

The research list

A research list is simply a list of questions your child has asked that you can’t quite answer. It can also be a place to put questions that have big answers that you don’t have time to delve into right at that moment. Ideally, you can hang this list somewhere they can see it, even if they aren’t reading or writing yet.  

While you will want to make time to search for the answers, take care to not make it a chore!  Some children will respond well to having a regular time during the week where you can pick a question and seek the answer together. Other children will be happy for you to do some research and report back to them. Other children will be just happy to have the list and be in wonder. Taking one question a week will give you time to discuss and see if that question leads to more questions! This list can also inform your library book choices to allow for a deeper dive on a given subject. 


The great unknown

Children will also ask questions that no one yet knows the answer to! It can be amazing for children to know that there is so much we don’t yet know. They can feel inspired to discover new things that will help us understand ourselves and the universe a little bit more. You might say to them “Now there is a question that people have been trying to figure out for a very, very long time!” Model a sense of true excitement and wonder for the unknown. Maybe they will be the one to someday answer this puzzling question!  

Filtering out the adult world

Whether children trust us with their questions or not, they are always taking in and processing information from their environment. This is often true even when you do not think they are listening. If children are exposed to adult conversation, or other information streams that are presenting content that is not age appropriate, it can result in anxiety and stress for the child. For this reason, Kim John Payne holds “filtering out the adult world” as a pillar practice of Simplicity Parenting.  


There are many aspects to the practice of filtering out the adult world. Do your best to listen to and watch adult programming outside of their presence. This includes being aware of what you and other adults talk about in their presence. In a way it is like making a “yes” space when they were babies. Only this is a “yes” space for their mental and emotional safety rather than their physical safety.   


Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne


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