A Place of Our Own
About the Series Feedback Glossary Search Go Español
Home Topics Activities Resources Episode Guide Active Learning
How to Talk with Kids

Dear Debi,
I have preschool age children in my care, but sometimes I don’t feel like I’m getting through to them. I know they can’t sit down with a lesson plan at this age but… how do I talk to them to start the learning process?
Donny, Carson, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Ask kids open-ended questions.
  • Listen for and observe kids’ interests.
  • Create a setting that sparks kids’ curiosity.
  • Encourage parents to ask open-ended questions during daily routines.
Expert Advice
Mike Salas
Mike Salas
Pre-K and kindergarten teacher for 11 years
Open-ended questions don’t have specific answers; they don’t have a right or a wrong, and that is their purpose. Open-ended questions are used to spark the child’s imagination.

For example, if a child is drawing the alphabet, instead of asking, “What letters did you draw?” ask them, “Tell me about your picture?” That way, children will have to use their own words and ideas to describe what they are doing or what they are seeing.

I had a child who drew a picture that I couldn’t understand. It sure made perfect sense to him, so I asked him to tell me about the colors he used and the shapes he composed. After I realized it was a drawing of his family on the beach, he told me a 15-minute story about his sister and his dog. Open-ended questions get children busy with ideas and language.

It’s extremely important to listen to kids and observe their activities so that you can learn from their interests. One of my kids just got back from a mountain trip. I asked her what she did. She said she built a snowman, made snowballs, and rode a sled. I used the opportunity to introduce the concept of snow melting and becoming water. So I pulled out a snow cone maker and let the ice melt and the children saw the results. They got to see it for themselves with an activity that they were interested in.

In my program, we operate under a child-initiated curriculum, so we give kids many choices. Anything that is hands-on, like blocks or things they can actually use with their hands, keeps them engaged. We have writing materials out which include pencils, pens, markers and lots of paper – things they can take and use on their own. All of our centers are like that. In a home setting, make sure you have areas that will allow a child to explore all the materials he has in his reach.
Child Care provider Comments
Child care provider for 3 years
If we know the kids enjoy doing certain things, we try to incorporate them into their activities. For instance, I had an infant that liked to read the same book every morning. So we incorporated the ritual or routine into the activities of the day.

But we do alternate things, because children can get bored with the same task or activity. We try to present them with a book or toy that may not be new, but that had been hiding somewhere in the room.

My home is set up as a center. There’s the science corner, and the library. In each center we have items that relate to its subject, but we rotate them, so that kids are always finding things and discovering the world day by day.
Child care provider for 25 years
We ask a lot of open-ended questions and try to make learning fun. Books are a great resource because they are structured around open-ended questions, like, “What’s the weather like outside? What did you do today?”
Child care provider for 11 years
Kids are always creative when they are telling a story. My three-year-old, for example, invents his own Spiderman stories. He thinks he’s a superhero and I make sure I listen to all his adventures.

One time he brought a bug into the house and we looked it up on the computer to make sure it wasn’t dangerous. I used the opportunity to create a discussion about bugs so he could express his thoughts about insects and such.

Always, at the end of the day, I encourage kids to tell their parents what they did. I think parents ought to know what their kids learned. And I review the lessons with them, because it helps the kids retain the information and helps parents understand how they can continue the learning process. For example, once we learn a letter or a number, I point them out in the environment. Then I encourage parents to do the same and tell them, if you see something your kids learned on a billboard, point it out.

Worm Farm Featured Activity:
Worm Farm
Open-Ended Questions Featured Video:
Open-Ended Questions
Topic: Social & Emotional Development
View Index
Learn More
View All Topics
Message Boards
Related Episodes
Helping a Shy Child Make Friends
Listening Skills
Ages & Stages: 3 to 4 Years
Preparing Siblings for a New Baby
Sibling Rivalry
Talking & Listening
Interactive Language & Open-Ended Questions
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
KidEnergy.com – Kits for Butterflies, Silk Worms and Ladybugs
Developmental Milestones
Downloads (Get Reader)
Tips on Resolving Conflicts pdf
© 2007 Community Television of Southern California. All rights reserved.