What is a typical three-year-old's favorite word? Excluding "mama" and his own name, the clear winner has to be the word "why?" Our two-year-olds maddened us with "no," but the threes have moved on to a subtler means of confounding their parents. "Why" at the start of a child's every utterance for months on end is enough to drive you batty and make you marvel at his sheer drive to understand the workings of the world.
The question for parents, however, is not why young children ask so many questions, but rather but how to keep their questions coming once the obsessive "why" phase has passed. How do we continue to foster our children's curiosity, skepticism, and willingness to investigate? How do we teach them to put together all the information they are gathering, and draw their own conclusions? How do we encourage them to seek knowledge and understanding in the early years and through life?
Somewhere down the line, our kids' teachers will start to talk about this whole set of skills under the heading of "critical thinking." It turns out that the ability to ask good questions is very important to success in school and beyond. Fortunately, what educators call "critical thinking" is a really a habit of mind that can be nurtured at home as much as at school. So much as we sometimes would love for our kids to go along, unquestioningly, with everything we tell them, if they ever did so it would be time to start worrying.
This week and next, our team of Savvy parents will be writing about what we do to nurture our children's critical thinking habits. We problem-solve with our kids, we talk about our thinking, we discuss books, music and art, and, above all, we answer all their questions, and ask a lot of our own too. Upon reflection, we've come to see that "why, Mama?" is a lot more fun than "yes, Mom."
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