5 Tips for Parenting Beautiful Questions

by Matthew Worwood

My 5 tips that help Parenting for Beautiful Questions started – ironically – with a question: How can we facilitate beautiful questions at home? I’ve pondered this question for the past few weeks after recording an episode of the Fueling Creativity podcast. This post articulates my current thinking about this topic and offers a few suggestions on parenting for beautiful questions.

To conclude our first season, Cyndi Burnett and I recently recorded our debrief episode. We tasked each other with sharing three big takeaways from the show. The relationship between questioning and creativity is apparent; a what or why question can engage children on a journey of curiosity and wonder. This relationship came up in multiple episodes, including shows with renowned Creativity researcher Ron Beghetto and founder of Figure 8 Thinking, Natalie Nixon. The latter mentioned Warren Berger’s book, A Beautiful Question. I purchased this book immediately after the show and read it from the perspective of parenting my three boys. Much of this post articulates my thoughts about this topic and how we may parent in a way that helps facilitate beautiful questions.

I’ve always known about the importance of asking questions; I provide additional time in my Design Thinking course at UConn for students to incubate and explore questions. However, I haven’t given too much thought to the type of questions young children ask and how we can better promote beautiful questions as parents. Warren Berger presents a beautiful question as an open-ended what or why question that ignites wonder and curiosity. My youngest (who’s four) is at this questioning stage; it’s an absolute joy each day when he says, “Daddy, I have a question.” When he says these words, I honestly don’t know what’s going to come out of his mouth, but some of the most recent questions include:

  • Where is the top of the world?
  • Where does the sun go at night?
  • Why do we get hungry?
  • Why are bees furry?

My middle boy is asking the following questions:

  • Why do you have to work every day?
  • When do people have to die? 
  • Why do we have to stand in line to purchase this ticket?

And my eldest is at… PAUSE…. “the age.” (and with his scientific mindset, not all of the questions satisfy the “too procreate” response). 

As I think about ways we influence these questions, I consider the role of the school curriculum, which exposes children to predetermined topics and content. As I reflect on my eldest two boys, there was a change in how questions emerged during this time. They felt a little less sporadic, less original, and questions that felt more applicable to a traditional classroom. This reflection made me think about how the curriculum initiates questions and to what extent we consider how this predetermined content influences our creative paths later in life.

I then considered how peers in my eldest’s class had influenced questions he has about sex. I then thought about how his knowledge of this topic will affect the questions that emerge from his siblings a few years from now. 

I then considered the role of technology and my eldest’s interaction with YouTube at an early age. I explored this platform as a tool for addressing questions in another blog post last year. The clip below is from my film Schooling for a Digital Culture. It provides an example of this in action. However, I don’t know if I considered how YouTube influences questions. 

Ultimately, this track of thinking focuses on the experiences our children receive inside their home and school environment, which returns me (and you) back to my initial question: How can we facilitate beautiful questions at home? I think it comes down to the experiences we offer and the information we provide, so here are some suggestions on how to better parent for beautiful questions:

5 Tips for Parenting Beautiful Questions

  • Read. Read. Read. And read some more. We know it. We hear about its importance regularly from teachers, academics, and even our parents when we were young. The research is clear about the importance of reading. However, what we read will influence the questions generated by children about the world. I’ll skip advocating for regular trips to the library and say that variety is the key to this tail. Make sure you expose your children to different worlds, topics, and challenges in the books you read. Likewise, maintain a mix of fiction and non-fiction books. 

  • Take nature walks. I’ve written about my love of nature walks with my boys, but it’s more than love; my experience taking my boys on nature walks has made me recognize its impact on their curiosity and wonder for the world. Nature walks are simple, free, and produce endless questions about bugs, insects, and other life forms. Grab a bug box, fishing net, and picnic to take this experience to the next level.

  • Regularly visit cultural institutions like libraries and museums. These institutions serve society by recording world knowledge and making it easily accessible to the community. These visits don’t have to be at renowned, large-scale institutions; find a museum in your local area and exposure your children to this new experience. Zoos are also an essential part of this group.

  • Digital Media, including documentaries on Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime, also serve as a tool for exposing children to new things. My eldest has watched all of the Cosmos, One Strange Rock, and Horrid Histories episodes. This experience has generated a whole bunch of questions, some of which only a physicist could answer. I’ll add interactive apps to the list as well. I suspect that VR and AR experiences will also be on this list very soon.

  • Encourage wonder in the family. Sit back and think, ponder, wonder. Who has a new and different question they want to ask about our world? What new and exciting questions do you have from school? And more recently, my eldest has started to ask questions about alternative histories; he’s asked things like, what if the US was still a colony of Britain? What if Neoploian had won the war against the British? And, what will our world look like in ten years?

Throughout these experiences, remember to keep the door open to questioning; be sure to let them know how much you value those questions, and also avoid answering the questions directly. Instead, respond with, “let’s find out” or “where do you think the sun goes at night – wow, what a fun way to end this post.

Matthew Worwood
Matthew Worwood is an educator, Creative Studies scholar-practitioner, and co-host of the Fueling Creativity in Education podcast. He is a professor of Digital Media Design at the University of Connecticut and a husband and proud father to three young boys.

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