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Harnessing the Power of Why

Why?! If you have a young child you probably hear this word around one thousand times a day...okay maybe that's an exageration but it certainly seems that way.

We have to be gentle with your baby sister, we can't pull her arm. Why?!

We eat our food with our hands, please keep your feet off the table. Why?!

Why is that truck not working?

Why do you have to work?

Why does that person look different than me?

Why why why why...sometimes you might just want to say "why are you asking so many questions?!" And then proceed to silently scream...

Does any of this sound familiar? If it does, then good!

As much as you might feel like your head is spinning from all of the whys, know that with each one that comes rolling out of your child's mouth there is learning taking place. They are wanting to know all about this big world around them.

So how do we "harness the power of why" to really push that inquisitive spirit?

Throwing it back at your child

"Why do I have to be gentle with my baby sister?"

Well what do you think? Why do we need to?

Hopefully they can tell you it's because the baby is small - but if not you can explain the reason.

If the why is asked while reading a book ask them, "why do you think the character did that?" If they don't know, maybe you can keep reading to find out.

What if you dont know the answer?

In my teaching (and mom) career I have been asked so many questions that I have zero or little idea the answer to. I know some adults like to pretend they have all of the answers but personally I like to fully admit when I truly don't know. In these cases involve the children in the research. Tell them "I don't know, but let's find out." If there is a book on hand to use, even better (I still love hard copies)! If not try to find an article that is geared towards children and read it to them. They can then decipher the answer to their why.

What if it's a question that you don't know how to answer?

While teaching I had this happen plenty of times too, but one such time really stays with me. We had a diverse group of students and one asked "why is (other student's) skin brown and mine is white?

In this politically fueled world where teachers are on the chopping block for answering incorrectly I started sweating about how to answer this. A simple "why do you think?" did not suffice for my student and I knew I could not and did not want to ignore the question.

So I made a small lesson out of it. I read the book "Happy in our Skin" to the students. We then discussed all of the things about us that make us special. Our families all come from different places with different races and ethnicities and cultures.

Was that the end? Nope...the inquisitive girl that she was, was still not satisfied. So we went with the scientific explanation that the color of our skin is determined by different amounts of melanin. Some people have more and some have less so our skin looks different.

Finally she was satisfied...whew!

All of this to say - children don't understand why a quesiton might be uncomfortable for an adult. And truly most questions we are uncomfortable answering shouldn't be uncomfortable. Maybe if we are open to answering every question our children ask we can make it easier on them too.

As a teacher, a parent, anyone really, we always need to be prepared for the whys. The whys are why so many scientific discoveries are made and why social justice keeps getting pushed forward. We need the whys in this world. We may not always know the answer but if we encourage our children to ask then this world can become a better place!



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