Would you rather go back to the age of five with everything you know now or know everything now that your future self will learn? Would you rather travel the world for a year on a shoestring budget or stay in only one country for a year but live in luxury?
These types of open-ended questions broaden our minds and make us think. They are similar to the books I used to read as a child, the adventure ones where I was asked to make a decision at the end of a page and turn to the appropriate page depending on my choice. These books may still exist, perhaps in electronic format, but I believe the modern world has moved away from them too much. Immediacy is the key today. Children (and adults) expect instant feedback and no longer practise the art of exploration of possibilities and justification of response. Too often children are looking for “the answer” and not encouraged to explore possibilities.
Speaking at the IAPS Conference this week, Dr Nihara Krause, an award winning Consultant Clinical Psychologist with over twenty years’ experience in teenage and adult mental health, asked if we encourage children to as k enough questions. Through the use of language and open-ended questioning we are able to expand children's curiosity and ability to reason, their creativity, thinking and independence. Children who are taught to think about things at an early age through open-ended questions are better equipped to understand the world around them and relate this new information to past or present experiences. Asking children questions also models it for them, showing them the importance of asking “What if…?” questions.
Open-ended questions help to:
- encourage children to think beyond the obvious.
- encourage children to think of as many possibilities as they can, before deciding upon the best or most appropriate answer.
- increase co-operation and understanding.
- allow children to include more information, feelings, attitudes and understanding of the topic.
- provide children with opportunities to explain or describe something, thereby expanding and developing their speech, language and vocabulary.
Taking this theme on a step further I really value the concept of moral dilemmas for children. Does your child know how he or she would respond if faced with a moral dilemma? Thinking through difficult decisions now can help calibrate a child’s moral compass and provide guidance for real-life situations. Scenarios offered to children might include the following:
- You are with friends when they start teasing an unpopular child, taking his things and calling him names. If you stick up for him, the group could turn on you. You start to slip away, but someone throws you the boy’s backpack. What will you do?
- Your friend has invited you over for a fun afternoon doing all your favourite things. You have your parents’ permission to go, but you have to get your homework done first. The project is not hard, but it would take time to do well. You could just tell your parents you did the work even though you did not. They will never know. What will you do?
- A group of friends is saying some mean things about another friend. Some of what they are saying is true, but then sometimes those things are true of you too. “Hey,” someone says, calling your name, “you haven’t said anything. What do you think? You agree with us, don’t you?” What will you do?
At Yateley Manor we believe in opening the minds of the children through challenges that have no definite answer. The Woodland Learning Area provides a valuable environment in which to scaffold learning, where children can play and explore possibilities but there are so many more opportunities across the school day. Allowing children to explore possibilities is the key. It is the metaphoric box of Lego that I had as a child, which enabled me to develop my thinking as a child. We must give children the space to think and explore. Their world has become too prescriptive and focused on answers.
The tiny seed knew that, in order to grow, it needed to be dropped in dirt, covered in darkness and struggle to reach the light. (Sandra Kring)