Child practitioners know how to interact with young children, they ask them direct questions and wait for a response. It's very easy for parents, standing with their child, to hear a question, whether it be asked by a childminder or teacher, or a friend or relative, and to answer the question on behalf of the child. It's so easy to do this that it can be pretty difficult not to. Try to avoid doing this though, it really is important that children learn to engage in conversation and that they learn to listen, interpret and respond to questions in their own right.
As a parent, you don't want to show up your child, or have them stuck in an awkward situation where they don't understand a question. This is such an important part of language development though that you really aren't doing them any favours when you respond on their behalf.
When granny asks 'What have you been doing today?', or the childminder asks 'Is it sunny outside?', there's a really high probability that they already know the answer. Adults are sympathetic to the knowledge of young children and don't ask searching questions requiring a comprehensive, in-depth, analytical response. They are asking in order to engage with the child, to help build a bond and in order to allow the child to practice language. The enquirer isn't usually looking for a definitive answer, they probably aren't even interested in the correct answer; instead they simply want to hear the answer in the child's own words. If parents wade in with the answer then they are denying the child the opportunity to speak for themselves.
If you recognise this behaviour in yourself then try to spot it in your interactions with those around your children. If you are aware that you are doing it, then you will be able to pause, think about it, and then stop before giving an answer. If it's a deep rooted habit that you have developed then it may take a little time to coax yourself away from it, but you will get there eventually.
Reading to your little ones is such an important activity, but the youngest children will only pick out sounds that they are beginning to understand as words. The act of reading to them allows them to hear words over and over and slowly they will begin to distinguish the different words. In time, they will learn their meaning. In no time at all you'll have a preschooler who has a broad vocabulary, understanding thousands of words.
To encourage hearing and learning words, you can make reading fun by asking questions at the end of each page as you read to them. Read each page to your children and then ask them questions specific to what is happening in the pictures or the story. If you are reading to several children then make sure they all get a turn, and ask questions appropriate to their age and understanding. Your children will begin to widen their vocabulary, hearing the words repeated in a similar context. Make sure that even the youngest are asked their own question, even if it is as simple as 'Where is the sky?', 'Point to something that is red', or 'What animal goes [suitable animal noise]?!'.
Reading to your little ones is one of the most valuable exercises you can undertake during their first few years. Encourage a passion for reading and books and their learning will become so much easier later on. The more you can create an interest in books by making stories interesting and fun, then the better in the longer term for your little ones!
Children can be very inquisitive, often asking very good questions, and it's easy to brush off or ignore ones we can't answer, but if they ask a question that you don't know the answer to, seize the opportunity to explore the topic and both you and your children will learn something new!
The internet gives us the most amazing resource imaginable - at our fingertips are the answers to almost any question on the planet, and certainly to any questions that our children will pose! If a challenging question comes your way, take time to research the answer, and encourage the inquisitive, learning nature of your little ones.
The internet is not the only resource at hand. Perhaps a question might lead to a trip to the library, a museum or the zoo? You don't have to answer just a single question, take the time to explore the topic area more broadly and that way your children will learn so much more. Young children absorb facts in an astounding way, but they also need to hear the conceptual reasons behind something as they build up their knowledge and understanding of the world more broadly.
Of course, your children won't understand scientific reasoning behind complex answers, your job is to couch explanations in terms that they will comprehend. Reference things that they do understand, and explain things using examples and experiences from everyday life that your little ones will understand.
Well, why is the sky blue and why do fish live in water?
The sky appears to be blue because air molecules scatter more blue light than other colours, until the sun sinks on the horizon at which point the light is coming indirectly and more red, yellow and orange light is scattered, sometimes leading to glorious sunsets!
Fish don't have lungs, but gills - these have developed to filter oxygen out of water rather than taking oxygen from the air.
Now, try explaining those in terms that a four year old will understand!