If I had a dime for every question I asked my girls throughout our years of homeschooling, we would be able to afford all the books we ever wanted! I am a big believer in questions; they are, to me, the best teaching tools at every level of learning. The nature of our questions may change as our children grow, but the method remains true.
When our children are very young, questions help them memorize and practice retrieving the knowledge that they are gaining. Answering our questions allows them to cement basic information in their minds that readies them to learn new and more complex ideas. Questions can be catalysts for learning and also can help a student dive deeper into his or her understanding of a subject.
When our students become middle schoolers, they are eager to talk back to us. This dialogue is necessary because it helps them process information into growing understanding. We ask questions designed to get them thinking, to help them draw conclusions and put facts together to explain bigger ideas. Many times our twelve and thirteen year-olds do not realize that they know what they know! Our questions should be designed to help them connect the dots of the pieces of information they know, to make connections that illustrate and strengthen their understanding.
As our children become high school students, we ask more open-ended questions. Our questions allow them to express their growing analysis of all the information and the understanding our earlier questions have helped them attain. They become thinkers as we continue to ask questions. They talk more as we talk less. Our major role becomes master question-asker, not provider of most information. After years of practice, I have learned to be a better question-asker, and that has made me a better teacher.
Often, our children know what is important to us by listening to our questions. A shrewd student can tell what will be on the test by attending to what the teacher repeatedly emphasizes when asking questions. Our questions can teach our children much bigger lessons, too; years ago I realized that questions can help us nurture our children’s spirits as well as their minds. As the mother of my girls, I wanted them to know that their hearts and spirits were even more important to me than their academic proficiency. I began to end most days with three questions, hoping that they would see what was truly important to me.
Are you happy in your heart? Despite the stresses of the day, are you at peace in your heart?
Are you healthy in your body? Does anything hurt you? Are you worried about yourself in any way?
Are you hopeful in your spirit? Even if things did not go well today, are you hopeful that life will be better tomorrow?
Strangely enough, these are the questions my girls remember! I still ask them from time to time, sometimes to make them chuckle, sometimes to bring back good memories, and sometimes just to remind them that there was always more to homeschooling for us than mastering a new subject.