One of the most thrilling breakthroughs in language development is when your toddler begins asking and answering questions. We’re not talking about just any questions either, we’re talking about wh- questions! Wh- questions ask What, Who, Why, Where, When, and How. Wh- questions are more complex than simple yes or no questions, which is why they’re such an exciting milestone for young inquisitive minds.
Why Wh- Questions are An Important Milestone
Wh- questions are an essential part of everyday life and their importance goes far beyond speech development. Learning to ask and answer wh- questions helps toddlers:
- Build conversation skills
- Boost social skills
- Stimulate vocabulary development
- Demonstrate an understanding of something new
- Promote reasoning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills
- Learn how to follow directions
- Relay information to others
- Build relationships
As you can see, this list of benefits ranges from social skills to critical thinking. Wh- questions lay the groundwork for making new friends, preparing for preschool, and of course, learning fun stuff!
How Wh- Questions Impact a Toddler’s Development
This 2016 study found some inspiring conclusions about the impact of wh- questions on a toddler’s development. Researchers asked fathers (Family Fun Fact: statistically, fathers are more likely to ask wh- questions than moms, which is why they were chosen for this experiment) to play, read, and ask their toddler questions for 10-minutes. Afterward, the researchers analyzed the types of questions asked (wh- questions or yes/no questions) and the toddlers’ answers. The results showed that fathers who asked wh- questions received more complex verbal responses, rather than their toddler simply pointing to an answer or responding yes/no. In addition, when the toddlers were brought back in a year later, the researchers found that the toddlers who were exposed to more wh- questions had a stronger vocabulary and better verbal reasoning skills. This study shows us how powerful these types of questions are, and the positive impact they can have on a toddler’s language and cognitive development.
How Wh- Questions Develop
Not all wh- questions are created equal. As you can imagine, answering a ‘why’ question is much more difficult than answering a ‘where’ question. Between 24-36 months, ‘what’ questions are the easiest for toddlers to understand, followed by ‘where’ and ‘who’ questions. What color is this? Where is your teddy bear? Who lives in that house? are great wh- starter questions for toddlers. Asking and answering ‘when’, ‘how’, and ‘why’ is always a bit tougher. Responses to these tougher wh- questions require more critical thinking and reasoning skills, so don’t be too concerned if these don’t sink in right away. The good news is that toddlers are curious by nature, so practicing wh- questions is going to be a blast for them no matter what.
If you’re interested in practicing wh- questions with your toddler, take a peek at the Speech category in the BabySparks program! Activities such as What & Where, What is That? Who Needs…? When Do You…? and Why? focus on wh- questions for toddlers, and are designed to help them work with these questions in creative and fun ways.
One last word on wh- questions: They’re fun and important, but it is possible to ask too many questions. We recommend balancing asking questions with simple conversation that flows and builds on whatever your toddler wants to talk about.