How Open-Ended Questions Unlock Kids’ Minds through Education

Published by Dora Lokvenec on

When you ask a kid a question, you never know what kind of answer you’ll get. Sometimes the shortest questions have the longest answers! But if you don’t want a rote answer and prefer your child to actually think before speaking, eliminate ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions. Replace them with open-ended ones that require active listening, thoughtful consideration and response, and self-reflection. You’ll help make the most of their education – and promote academic achievement as they learn and grow.

What Are Open-Ended Questions? (Hint: That’s One!)

Open-ended questions prompt discussion because they make one-word answers impossible. Often starting with words like “how,” “why,” “what if” or “tell me about….”, they prompt kids to think before answering. They also encourage students to listen and make sure they understand, provide details and respond in unique ways.

For example, asking your student a question like, “Did you have a good day?” leads to short responses like, “Yes” or “No.” However, framing that question differently results in a more detailed response which requires your child to stop and consider how they’ll answer. “What was the best part of your day?” encourages a subjective answer from your child’s perspective and prompts a longer conversation than you’d get with the previous question.

Education is all about learning…and it’s hard for kids to learn if they don’t actually stop and think.

Why Are They Important in Education?

Open-ended questions require understanding to answer. 

If your child looks at you with confusion, gives you a puzzled expression or says “Whaaattt?” when you ask them something, you can be sure they didn’t understand the question. If, however, they question you back, asking something like “What do you mean?”, you know they heard you, want to understand, and need more communication to answer appropriately.

Open-ended questions necessitate good listening skills. 

If your youngster won’t stop talking long enough to listen, they’re likely not going to hear the question in its entirety or be able to phrase an answer that makes sense. Teaching your child good listening skills benefits them in school, life and career.

Open-ended questions stimulate thinking.

As we’ve indicated, answering an open-ended question requires thought. Whereas a child could easily throw a short answer at a simpler question without much reflection, an open-ended question requires more careful consideration – and a detailed thought process that only comes through education. 

Open-ended questions promote focus.

For children who struggle to focus, open-ended questions force them to do so. In order to provide more information in detail and express their ideas and opinions clearly, they must learn to channel their thoughts and communicate in appropriate ways. This comes with experience, as they grow and mature.

Open-ended questions develop language and creativity skills.

Because these types of questions can be answered in more than one way, children develop more advanced language skills as you pose them. They learn to assess their feelings, make predictions and express their thoughts accurately. They also learn to evaluate their speech, use a variety of vocabulary, and use their imagination to help support their ideas.

Open-ended questions warrant reflection.

The more kids stop to think about what they’re going to say, the more likely they’ll actually give an intelligent response. Many teachers and parents find that, once they learn how to ask the right kind of questions and begin training students to answer thoughtfully, kids tend to correct themselves before they speak. This results from internal reflection, which also improves academic achievement and performance.

Education: How to Ask The Right Questions

To get kiddos listening, thinking, responding and moving toward academic achievement, we first need to learn how to ask the right questions

Try following these steps to change the way you talk to your child and promote more open conversation.

Step 1: Listen to Yourself Talk – and Evaluate Your Questioning 

As we think about talking to our kids, we should start paying attention to the kinds of questions we ask. Do they encourage open conversation or quick replies? (Guess which type of question that was!) 

If the latter, start following the first question up with a second one that requires more detail. For example, immediately link “Did you have a good day?” with “If so, what happened today that made you smile?” You can even follow that question up with a request for more information: “Really? How did that make you feel?” Keep pressing for details!

Step 2: Attempt to Start a Conversation

If your child answers your question, then goes off on some tangent, guess what? You asked the right kind of question! Though those offshoot answers may be hard to follow, they mean you accomplished your goals: You got your kiddo to listen, think and answer intelligently through thoughtful conversation. But don’t worry: As they grow, they’ll learn to better organize their thoughts into more succinct, yet detailed answers.

In education, schools train teachers to perfect this talent. When students give simple, one- or two-words answers, instructors ask questions like, “Why do you say that?” “Can you tell me more?” or “What’s the best way to solve that?” As parents, we should also model these types of questions at home to stay in touch with our children, know what they’re thinking, and help them talk through their options as they begin making their own decisions.

Step 3: Watch Your Wording

Just as you’d like your child to reflect on their answer before they offer it, so you should do with your questions. For instance, think about any negative connotations particular words might convey and how your student might receive them. Ask yourself if you could use replacements to communicate the same meaning in a more positive way.

A side note here: Be careful about asking your offspring, especially teenagers, very personal questions. If you embarrass them, or make them feel uncomfortable, they’re likely to shut down and refuse to answer at all.

Academic Achievement in Education: KidzToPros Can Help!

If you’d like your child to learn active listening, thoughtful consideration and response, and self-reflection, start asking them open-ended questions. We can help!

At KidzToPros’ after-school programs, we unlock kids minds through the power of education. Our teachers, coaches and instructors ask the right questions, require attentive answers, and teach kids how to apply what they learn in a helpful and supportive environment. Our classes are fun, educational and promote success.

Check out our lineup of STEM, sports and arts courses today!