Updated: Jan 17, 2019
Try asking these 4 questions instead of ... "What color is it?"
Whether your baby is an infant, toddler, or preschooler [They're always our babies, right?], the language we use with them is a powerful tool for teaching, learning, and brain growing.
I was sitting down to hot coffee on a cold, misty Mid-Atlantic day with an Early Childhood Speech Language Pathologist friend.
I was curious about how we can support our grOH! Community EVEN more with their kiddo’s language development. So, I asked “What do new families struggle with the most in terms of supporting their little’s language.
Without a second thought, she said… “ASKING QUESTIONS! Families have a very hard time asking questions that build language!”
She went on, “Families have three questions built into their repertoire:
1. What is that? (Labeling Questions)
2. What color is it? (Strictly color - no other visual attributes)
3. How many are there? (Counting Questions - specifically, quantities in total)
Parents, these are like our play-time conversation default!
I have GOOD NEWS, though! Improving question quality... this is something tangible... this is something we can help with! We have a lock on great questions to ask. It is a high leverage daily task to change, and its just building another muscle… It's challenging at the beginning to build the habit, but it gets easier and easier!
**Also Good News - we have a cheat sheet to help you remember to ask better questions! Check it out here!
Before we dive in, let me quickly nerd out and talk about HOW IMPORTANT BUILDING LANGUAGE IS! We want our kids to be able to communicate, of course. But, did you know that the richness of the language we foster within our kids actually impacts how they think? Language is hugely connected to thinking.
If all we ask our kids to think about is the color, or the name of something… we are not asking them to think about or describe things on a deeper level. We are not training their brain to think in complex ways! When you give your kids access and practice with language, when you expect them to use complex language, and when you model using rich language… you make them amazing thinkers.
Additionally, one of the most effective coping mechanisms for difficulty in word finding or communication mishaps is ‘talking around’ a word until your conversation partner can help fill in the gaps. The practice of richly thinking about, asking questions about, and describing the world around us helps prepare our kids with this skill set!
So, let’s build our questioning muscle and collect some parenting wins! My SLP friend recommends that we think of questions in buckets because, unfortunately, there is no one magic question that is going to make all of our conversations more rich and detailed.
Your question buckets:
Function or Purpose Questions:
Think the function or job of the whole and of the parts of something.
E.g. How do [the wheels] help the [train]?
Think specific people or broad groups of people.
E.g. Who do you think is riding the [school bus]?
Think questions that have specific and known answers AND answers you have to hypothesize.
E.g. Where do you think the [airplane] is going?
Attribute/ Sensory Questions:
Think about juicy adjectives and phrases. These are the answers you want. Ask questions about ALL senses, not limited to vision.
E.g. How does [the velcro] feel? touch
So there is the asking.. then there is the answering! How do we help them do it?
To learn how to answer these questions, kiddos need to bolster their vocabulary as well as learn to process these more complex questions. No small order. Your job?
1. Start AS EARLY AS YOU CAN! Your baby not talking yet, that's ok! Ask and answer these questions to build your parenting muscles AND expose them to rich language!
2. Model. Model. Model. Show them how to think and speak using complex vocabulary and ideas!
3. Hold high expectations! Know that with practice, your support and guidance and more practice, they will grow more and more independent in their thinking and language usage!
4. Remember to give them thinking time! Before giving them help, count to 3 (SLOWLY) then ask - “would you like some help”?
5. If/when kiddos get stuck, give two vocabulary options. E.g. What does the [cookie] smell like? … “does it smell like sweet vanilla? Or like bitter coffee?” If they’re still struggling, give them vanilla and coffee to smell.
6. Have Patience and Practice! This is about changing your habits and building theirs!
Pro-Tip: to really get them thinking!
Follow up your question buckets with:
“Why?” or “How do you know?” With more modeling and practice, these questions build amazing thinking skills! Or try, “How did it make you feel?” where appropriate. This specifically targets social and emotional language building, which helps kiddos first identify their feelings and then communicate them.
You are ready!
Adding new and more complex questions to your parenting repertoire just requires practice! YAY you! You got this!
Click here to get an awesome cheatsheet: Brilliant Questions to post on your fridge, in your playroom, or to have handy on your phone with examples of each type of question!
You can find sample play and related questions to ask in our sample grOH! Guide. Check it out!