It’s a word that parents are unnecessarily fearful of.
Why? It’s a question that a toddler instinctively asks as he is learning about his life, his environment and all the strange, exciting newness that he witnesses every day.
Why are we so scared of the word ‘why’?
As parents and teachers, we do not have to be the font of all knowledge? Or is it ‘fount’? Why does our language change, and with the use of a single vowel change its meaning, yet have a similar one? Font/fount – aren’t they from the same source?
Why? These are the questions that children will ask, but we don’t necessarily have to have the answer.
With the continued emphasis on passing exams with the right answers, we are all indoctrinated into thinking that the answer to a ‘why’ question has to be answered with factual accuracy – yet many of our most intriguing thoughts and questions have no right or wrong response. In many cases there are no accurate answers to the question ‘why’, so why can we not just accept that and enjoy the brilliance of a world full of why’s?
And why do we try to deter children from asking the obvious question – why?
Parents have a massive role in life. We all recognise that, and there are times when a toddler’s constant use of the word “why” can be somewhat trying. Yet is it their way of questioning their existence in this world. It is their road to discovery and creativity, and maybe at an early age we should make it abundantly clear that there is no answer to many a question. In this way, we encourage children’s philosophical thoughts and enable them to think creatively rather than within the constraints of a given and determined response.
“It’s a miracle that curiosity survives formal education” said Albert Einstein, as quoted in our previous blog. It’s also a miracle that curiosity survives the busy and swift responses that many a parent gives to a child when they are trying to do a thousand jobs or are simply tired of the question ‘why’.
But we must give children the opportunity to consider those all-important ‘why’ questions, and in allowing time to answer these questions, you are opening up an entire lifetime of dialogue for a child, and a lifetime of sincere and honest questioning that will help them to confront many difficult or fascinating issues in life.
The art of conversation, debate and discussion should not be left in the world of the Ancient Greeks, and should not be heard only in the chambers of a public school debating society. Why don’t we get children to consider the word ‘why’ more often?
Today, we were going to write about reading and writing with your child. We wanted to talk about the importance of sharing reading, writing, creativity and conversation with your child, and a brilliant book came to mind, hence the consideration of the word ‘why’.
Sally Grindley wrote a book called “Why is the Sky Blue?”
It is a truly spectacular book about the relationship between an old donkey and a young rabbit. The youngster asks the question, “why is the sky blue?”
However, as the rabbit asks the question she finds another fascinating discovery, like why ladybirds have different numbers of spots, or why the earth is brown, or how you can make images out of the shapes in the clouds. Soon the roles reverse and Donkey finds himself learning from Rabbit.
Is the answer of why the sky is blue ever given? You’ll have to read the book but the essence of this book is all about the sharing, about the need to respond to the word ‘why’ – even if the question is never fully answered. It is a book about the opportunities to embrace learning, real learning – learning that is relevant for the child at a given time, and that moment may be a fleeting one because there is so much more to learn and be distracted by.
Reading a book such as Sally Grindley’s is a great start, and as we said in previous blogs, starting young with children is vital. But this is just a starting point. Once a book like this has been read, parents should take their children out into the streets, into the countryside, along the river – be it an industrial canalised one or a free flowing stream, so that they too can take on the role of the rabbit and ask those all important questions of ‘why’.
Why is there writing all over those walls along the canal?
Why is the water black?
Why does the dragonfly hover above the water and dart in a different direction so dramatically?
Why is the grass damp?
Why is that street sign there?
Why did that car have no back light working?
Why is that building so big?
Why has it got those numbers on it?
Why do weeds grow faster than planted flowers?
And so it goes on. They may seem unimportant questions but to children with open eyes, they want to consider the answers.
Of course the questions can be more open-ended and sometimes more difficult to answer, but responses should still be given.
Why do I have blonde hair?
Why did Grandpa die?
Why do people believe in different Gods?
Why can’t I write about what I want in school?
Why can’t elephants fly?
The bizarre may not seem bizarre to an eight year old because their minds haven’t been closed with a lack of or too much knowledge.
And once you’ve been on this walk in your local area, get your creative juices going and make a book about your journey. Children love personalised stories; they appeal to their egotism. Sitting together to rediscover the ‘why’ questions and reflect on what has been seen is an excellent reiteration of learning, and something that a child can return to many years after the initial event has taken place.
Yet, we ourselves tend to be fearful of doing such things in case our ‘work’ is not perfect.
It doesn’t matter!
We have to release our inhibitions to our own creativity in order to ensure the creativity and the curiosity of the next generations. At present, they are not getting enough of this in many schools, though it is wonderful to hear how many schools are now going out more and beginning to introduce philosophy into the classroom at an early age.
Encourage your children to ask the question ‘why’. Work with them on finding a response and make them realise that there may not be a definite answer, and that this is okay. Make them realise there are no answers to some of life’s most complicated questions, and enjoy the sharing of learning and curiosity.
Many thanks, Brenda. We’re still working on ways to make it required reading for all adults, and we’re glad you see it that way. Having just read your guest post on endorphins I reckon that’s another area of understanding that should be on everyone’s curriculum.
This is very good. It would be great if this was required reading for all adults.
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What an EXCELLENT post (I seem to be saying this each time I come by and read one of your posts). Thank you Gary & Clare!
Thank you Sharon. We really appreciate you taking the time to read our blogs and comment on them. CB