Springtime means it’s the perfect time to get outside and explore. We love when our students come to us with questions about what they’ve observed.
Sometimes all the “whys” can seem overwhelming—especially when you’re a parent trying to do a million things at once—but remember that the way you answer your child’s questions will help fuel their curiosity for learning for the rest of their lives.
Indulge in and celebrate your child’s “whys” by answering them as patiently as possible when you can.
Why are the “Whys” so important?
In a study by the Department of SSHA, University of California, they found that questions are compellingly important for cognitive development.
When children encounter a problem with their current knowledge state (a gap in their knowledge, some ambiguity they do not know how to resolve, some inconsistency they have detected), asking a question allows them to get targeted information exactly when they need it. This information is available to them when they are particularly receptive to it, and because it comes as the result of their own disequilibrium it may have depth of processing benefits…
Questions allow children to get information they need to move their knowledge structures closer to adult-like states. The ability to ask questions to gather needed information constitutes an efficient mechanism for cognitive development.
– Children’s questions: a mechanism for cognitive development. Chouinard MM., Monogr Soc Res Child Dev. 2007;72(1):vii-ix, 1-112; discussion 113-26.
In this study, they found not only that the depth and content of questions paralleled the child’s current cognitive development, suggesting that asking questions is a natural part of the learning process, but also showed that when children are encouraged to ask questions and they receive helpful answers when they do so, they are learning more efficiently and productively at that point in time.
You don’t have to be a scientist to answer your child’s questions; just do the best you can with the knowledge you have. If you don’t have the answer, taking a moment to stop and look it up can mean a world of difference to your child!
5 of our favorite spring-inspired “Why?” kids questions:
Here are some science questions our students have asked (and their answers) that are perfect for spring.
1. Why do flowers have bright colors?
Flowers that are bright in color attract birds, bees, and insects that will which will lead to the transfer of pollen from one plant to another. The only way flowers can produce seeds is if they are pollinated from their own flower (self-pollination) or from another flower in the same species.
2. Why don’t birds get shocked when they sit on an electrical wire?
Because when a bird sits on a single wire, its two feet are at the same electrical potential as the wire so the electrons have no reason to travel through the bird’s body (electrons travel on the path of least resistance — the wire). The only way electricity would move through the bird’s body is if part of the bird touched something with a different electrical potential (like a different wire, the ground, or the wood post). That would open up an easier path for the electrons to travel through.
3. Why is the sky blue?
Light from the sun looks white, but it’s actually made up of all the colors of the rainbow. Light travels in waves (just like waves in the ocean) — some light travels in short, “choppy” waves; others light travels in long, lazy waves. The waves will travel in a straight line unless it is reflected (like with a mirror), bent (like with a prism) or scattered. Blue light waves are shorter than other color light waves, so when these waves hit the particles in the atmosphere, the blue light waves scatter more than other colors. That’s why we see a blue sky most of the time.
4. Why do we get sunburns?
The sun produces three types of waves: Infrared radiation, visible light (which we can see and which causes the blue sky and rainbows), and Ultraviolet light. Infrared radiation produces the less energy than visible light waves, and ultraviolet waves produce more energy than visible light or ultraviolet light. It’s this energy that can hurt us. If too much ultraviolet light hits our skin, it can cause our skin cells to die and our bodies to react. Our skin turns red and it can hurt a lot. Ultraviolet light can bounce off surfaces like water, snow, and concrete, which means even under an umbrella (or even if there are clouds) you can still get burned.
5. Why do stars twinkle?
Most stars shine with a steady light, but since we are viewing stars through thick layers of atmosphere that have turbulent (moving) air, some of the light bends slightly as it travels to us on the ground. This makes the star seem to twinkle. You may also notice that stars closer to the horizon seem to twinkle more than other stars. That’s because there is more atmosphere between you and a star on the horizon than between you and a star high in the sky above you.
Would you like to explore some more fun science?
Check out NASA’s kids’ site, https://spaceplace.nasa.gov