Finding answers and asking questions
As parents and teachers it is easy in this day and age to feel entirely compelled to answer every 'good' question a child asks. We are all the products of the information age swelling up around us. I can hardly remember turning to the row of leather bouned Encyclopedia Britanica's on my dad's office bookshelf for research projects. Did I ever really do that? Now Google is all I'll ever need. And because information is so readily available, and we're all pretend experts on any one of a dozen topics, when a kid asks a question--we try for an answer.
But there is something remarkable about letting the big questions that kids ask just sit for a little while, unanswered. Wonder fills kids with all kinds of brilliant ideas. Whey they look for their own answers, the world grows large with meaning before them.
Anyone who spends any amount of time around kids knows how frequently they ask questions. (Every ten seconds.) And their constant inquisitiveness sometimes becomes a burden or an annoyance as you feel compelled to find the answers. Why are the leaves green? Why do trees have leaves? Why are there trees? Because of this thing called cholorophyl...because they need them to grow... becausw we need air...because. It's not uncommon when answering the questions children ask to feel like you have slipped into the twilight zone of the metaphysical.
But occasionally instead of answering, ask back. Really. Ask a child to answer one of their own questions. I tried this recently with a group of six and seven year olds who are studying matter.
"What is matter? " They wanted to know, when I told them we;'d be studying it for the next several weeks.
"What do you think it is? I asked back.
One little girl replied, "Matter is maybe something invented by someone named Matt."
The next day we continued the conversation with the touching off point that matter is 'anything you can touch or feel.' With that definition, brought to the group by a classmember, the children were off.
"We can feel air, is air matter?"
"We can feel our hearts beating, are our hearts matter?"
"If it's anything we can touch or feel, it's EVERYTHING around us."
"If matter is everything, is God matter?"
"If matter is everything, is anything NOT matter?"
I don't even begin to answer their questions. Huge, brilliant, awe inspring questions, filled with the sweet wonder of small children.
Instead I grin widly and write them on chart paper for us to think about over our unit of study. Some questions we'll find answers to. Other's we might not. Answering the question isn't as important as asking it.