Mummy, what is this? Mum. How did this happen? Dad when will my plant grow? Dad, why do we always see stars only at night?
Questions, questions and more questions, curiosity is what led man to all the discoveries and great inventions. The constant questioning mind of mankind and some pestering “Wh” questions and hey! the deepest mysteries were unravelled.
“Wh” questions or 5 W’s, “What”, “Who, Where, When & Why and 1 H, How, are the ways a child or man initiates questions to satisfy his curiosity. These when a child uses shows an inquisitive mind, one that is initiating conversations and taking stock of the world around him, inferencing probable reasons looking at a situation and problem solving.
But where does this all begin. How to bring the child to use these questions? how to make the child initiate?
To use language the child should have a rich source of vocabulary to retrieve and use. A sentence typically consists of nouns, verbs, prepositions and adjectives.
See how many of these your child knows? Otherwise make a list of these and start teaching him.
When we start with the nouns generally, we start with the “What” questions. Remember here the thumb rule, visuals, visuals & more visuals. Don’t let the child get lost in figuring out what was asked. A child with language delay cannot immediately create a visual image, for example when I use the word, elephant you can immediately visualise it, a child with inherent processing delays even if he knows the word elephant may not visualise it and that’s one reason there is a lack of to & fro communication. When someone asks you a direction, you can visualise the whole route in your mind. This is motor planning albeit in your head. This is a herculean task for children with language delays so one has to start with the prerequisites, i.e., vocabulary.
So, the simple solution to this is to use a lot of visuals to teach these. Show a picture of an apple and ask, what is this? Provide answer if the child is not able to answer the question. One way we teach a child to answer the questions correctly is by modelling technique. If the child’s mother is sitting in the session, I ask the Mom first, “mama what is this ? and once she answers , “apple”. I immediately ask the child the same question and eight out of ten times the child gets it.
While teaching verbs, show a picture of running and ask “what is the boy doing?”. Even if the child answers in one word, appreciate and reinforce the child. Always verbalise your actions, to add to the vocabulary of the child. Like if you are cutting vegetables, say “mama is cutting vegetables”, or “mama is combing”. Then only the child will be able to answer the question, “what is mama doing?”
Remember most of the children fail to communicate because they do not realise the importance of using words and then end up getting frustrated and have behaviour issues as they get older. Continuously praising the child even for his slightest efforts makes the child discover the magic of words.
Ask a variety of “what questions, “what colour is the ball?” “What is the shape of the table?”. If the child is not able to answer give options., “Is the ball green or blue?”
Initially make sure you are using objects, toys, big flashcards so as to avoid distractions and get the full attention of the child.
Prepositions are where we introduce the “where” questions …use toy table, chairs, boxes etc and make him place things (small animals, cars anything the child loves) on, in under, between, in front of etc. It’s best to introduce this as a table top activity at first so that the child is fully focussed and all the items are at the line of sight of the child.
Initially just work on the receptive language of the child asking the child to simply place the objects as you instruct, e.g. cat on the chair, or ball in the basket. Once the child is confident in it, start with the “where” questions, “where is the cat?” Or “where is the ball?”. If the child is unable to answer initially, provide the answer.
Once the child is proficient on table top make the child place things across the room. This teaches another important skill, “staying on task”. Which basically means when given instructions and a wider area to move, does the child remember the instruction and stays on task or does he wander off. This is an essential skill to be mastered by each one of us to finish our tasks successfully.
Make all this as interesting and fun for the children. The amount of small toy furniture, cute small animals, small sensory bean bags, etc I have, made these sessions a fun journey they hardly realise they are working with me.
“What” & “where” questions can be used with adjectives too. As stated, earlier colour, shape & size are the adjectives a child uses at first, they are easy, concrete or tangible. So, “What colour is mango?”, or “what is the shape of the wall clock?”. “What size do you want- small or big?”
Unless a child doesn’t have these basic parts of speech, he doesn’t have anything to say much in his personal dictionary. Moreover, he will not move towards initiation and will be stuck at need based communication.
“What” questions for older kids is also used for reasoning & inferencing, i.e., looking at a situation asking “what happened here?”, but for this sort of inferencing a child has to cover a lot of prerequisites in language. I will be discussing that once we cover our basic “wh” questions.
Another way to develop curiosity, and to go on a rollercoaster ride of “wh” questions and develop natural language is through play. Please use kitchen set, doll house, doctor set to encourage a lot of free play. Use lots of dramatizations like, the puppy is hurt so “what does it need? (a bandage) “or “Why is dolly so happy?” (Because it’s her birthday, we are going to cut a cake and have a party). “Where is the boat?” (Under the bridge)
In play the fun element is phenomenal and sky is the limit to imagine a play scenario. Most important in play all learning is incidental we deliberately don’t try to teach a child here. We let the child enjoy the process of play. So, make sure while playing you are not teaching anything by insisting say this or repeat that. You just verbalise each other’s actions and the questions are asked naturally in the flow of conversation (it’s dolly’s birthday party, “what would you like to have?”)
Picture description is also an excellent way to practice “wh” questions. This I will take as a separate topic.
So, let’s awaken the child in us, be bubbly and funny while approaching your kids. Start with the “what” & “where” questions to start the first step towards language development. Use lots of materials around the house to create a world where he can create visual image and cut down on processing the word. Remember “a picture is worth a thousand words”
So… let’s get curious!!!
Author Simmi Vasu