How Questions Shape Cognitive Development in Pre-K

Parents of preschool-aged children are subject to daily, hourly, and even minute-by-minute questions. Queries about what things are and how they work can be heard from car seats, at the dinner table, and in the morning, afternoon, evening, and night.

If you find yourself growing tired of answering so many questions—sometimes the same question three times in a row—you can find comfort in the fact that children are shaping their cognitive development when they practice the art of inquiry. Therefore, it is critical to find a pre-K program that will not only enable young children to ask questions, but encourage the practice and development of skills related to exploration and discovery.  

Fessenden Kindergarten teacher Greta Sanborn notes the importance of teaching children how to question as early as pre-K. She says, “We want our students to leave our school as critical thinkers and explorers, and we want them to be excited about learning.” She believes this enables children to go through their educational careers—and their lives—without taking things at face value.

In the book “Early Education: Three, Four, and Five Year Olds Go to School,” co-written by C. Seefeldt and B.A. Wasik, preschool-aged children begin to ask deeper questions that indicate an interest in learning about the world around them. The authors posit that these questions “represent the evolution of their thinking and attempts to make concepts fit into what they know about the world.”

Greta notes that in Fessenden’s Pre-K and Kindergarten programs, the concept of failure is directly related to the art of questioning, and teachers talk about it in age-appropriate ways. She says, “At this age level, it’s more about acknowledging that we all make mistakes or give the wrong answers. Learning how to ask questions—and being comfortable with doing so—is a big part of the equation.” Greta adds, “teaching these boys grit and determination is one of the key foundations of our program, and these traits go hand-in-hand with questioning and growing as learners.”

Research indicates that there is a method to their madness when children ask questions. Educational experts believe that kids have an underlying goal when showing curiosity, and it’s about seeking information.

According to a 2008 study titled “Children’s questions: a mechanism for cognitive development,” children ask many information-seeking questions because they want to learn; it’s not about seeking attention. The study notes that “parents give answers to these questions, but when they do not, the children persist in asking for the information, suggesting that the goal of this behavior is to recruit needed information.”

Asking questions in preschool Another study conducted by Brandy Frazier, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, along with colleagues Susan A. Gelman and Henry M. Wellman, both professors in psychology at the University of Michigan, set out to take a closer look at the responses children receive to their questions. Frazier and her colleagues suggest that “if children ask questions strictly to spark or extend a conversation, then any answer they receive will be satisfying. But if they are asking questions because they want to know an answer, then the nature and length of that answer will affect how the child reacts.”

So the next time you hear that persistent little voice coming from the backseat, you can rest assured that your child is seeking answers and you have the power to help them see the value in inquiry.

What questions does your Pre-K child ask and how do you answer them? Tell us in the comments section below!

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