The Importance of Questions

The Importance of Questions for Learning“Ask questions to find out something about the world itself,
not to find out whether or not someone knows about it.” ~ John Holt

As I wrote in an article in 2013 for Life Learning Magazine about unschooling and motivation, intrinsic motivation is the key to deep learning. And a major part of that is curiosity. Children are born curious and learning. They watch intently what others do, listen closely to what people say, touch everything, and explore every nook and cranny available to them. Later, they incessantly ask questions in an attempt to understand the whys and hows of their ever-expanding field of interest. Most parents of very young children will make the time to respect the importance of questions and curiosity to their children’s learning…as incessant as those questions sometimes seem.

However, that can change as kids grow older, especially if they attend school. Any school (or even pre-school) that relies on a standardized curriculum is, by default, structured to interfere with curiosity. Where curiosity leads is a uniquely individual thing, and is often in conflict with what curriculum writers dictate. In the standardized, competitive, results-focused environment of schools, there just isn’t time to deviate from the curriculum, let alone answer the questions posed by a roomful of kids. Teachers prefer to ask the questions (to which they already know the answers) and have the students provide the “correct” responses; that never-ending querying is an almost sure-fire way to dampen a child’s curiosity.

By definition, life learning parents recognize, nurture, and protect children’s curiosity. But however much faith and trust we have in children and in their learning process, we, too, can sometimes find ourselves too busy being curious (or worried) about what our children know (or don’t know) to allow curiosity to be their guide.

In another article for Life Learning Magazine about nurturing our children’s curiosity, I examine some of the other barriers to allowing kids to fully pursue their curiosity, including a concern that it will lead them to risky behavior or into unsafe situations or environments. Children need unstructured time to play, dream, create, and explore. Our role as unschooling parents is to provide that for our children so they can pursue answers to their questions, not to provide the “correct” answers. We would do well to remember Albert Einstein’s words about this: “Curiosity is a delicate little plant which, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom,”

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