Questions Lead to Learning—Good Parenting


Dear Dr. Debbie,

My four-year-old asks a lot of questions. It started soon after she turned three, but the questions are more frequent and more complicated lately.

For example, last year she asked, “Where does rain come from?” Now it’s, “How does a plant drink water if it doesn’t have a mouth?” My college botany class might have had some answers but not at a four-year-old level. This is apparent by my daughter’s confused looks and repeated questions. What should I do if I can’t answer her?

Some College And Life Experience


Complex answers aren’t the best way to encourage a child’s inquisitiveness. That’s want you want to do, right? Your daughter’s four-year-old brain is a learning machine. She’s absorbing experiences and information to form a base of knowledge that she can draw from for many years to come. But the key is to approach her constant questions as a normal stage of development.

Learning by Doing

Even before she was born, a child looks for patterns around her. Sounds, sights, physical sensations, smells, tastes, and her own emotions find their way into her brain’s permanent storage more readily if they are repeated experiences. By four months her hands can bring objects to her mouth for closer investigation. By eight months she’s testing physical properties of different materials by banging things. By three years, as you’ve noticed, she has the ability to use words to further her knowledge by tapping into yours. Of course, she still learns best through her own experiences with nature, household objects, toys, and of course, people.

Turn a Question Back

Have you ever turned the question back to the questioner? You might be surprised at the conclusions she can draw. When my daughter was four she asked me why the raindrops “clumped together” on the car. “Why do you think they clump together?” I asked her. She pondered a moment and answered, “They like to be together.” We were both satisfied with this answer and went on with our day.

Molecularly speaking, her answer neatly explains cohesion tension – the behavior of 2 hydrogen atoms forming an arc with an oxygen atom between them. Add more such molecules and the arc keeps growing, always with a curved surface, into a round blob. The four-year-old description of “liking” each other works just fine.

Questions Make Conversation

Maybe your daughter barrages you with questions because she enjoys having your attention. This is normal. Try to balance the other demands on your time to leave plenty of room for attention for her thoughts, opinions, and yes, questions. You can ask questions, too. She’s learning that you are interested in her, and that your life experiences and knowledge are interesting as well. If the ongoing guidelines for social distancing are currently limiting her interactions with playmates, you are a worthy substitute for someone her own age to chat with. Follow her lead for topics. Scale back your answers, when she looks confused, to her level of understanding. Conversation skills are learned through such sessions. And she’s learning how to use language to further her research process.

Let’s Find Out Together

A child’s questions can lead to fun investigations – with objects as well as images and words (that you can read for her) from books and on the internet. Her attention to any particular subject may be fleeting, but perhaps an hour or so might be spent exploring one of her many questions. My grandson, starting around three and a half, was fascinated by sharks. He quickly learned right where to look for books about sharks in the non-fiction section of the library. This pursuit of facts about breeds, body parts, life cycle, habitats, feeding habits, etc. lasted more than a year. In this time he was also learning how libraries work and that his grandmother is a pretty good research partner.

Encourage your daughter’s questions with experiences, returned questions, more questions, and shared investigations into the topics that interest her.

There’s so much to learn about!

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist  and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum  Register for upcoming parenting workshops on Zoom:

March 9 “Why Do Children Misbehave?”
March 23 “The 3 Reasons for Rules”

Read more of her Good Parenting columns by clicking here.