Question Development in Children

  • 1 September 2018
  • Jerri Pirc


In development, children understand language before they produce language. Answering questions is quite a complex process as it requires the child to understand what is being asked, process the question, form an answer, and speak that answer. Phew! Hard work, and as you have already probably figured out, not all questions are created equal. There is a hierarchy of development in both comprehending and using questions. Some question types illicit more communication than others. You will have experienced that fact if you have ever tried to elicit information from a teenager by using yes/no questions. Yes/no questions with teens will probably give you some information, but not the detailed information you were probably seeking. Let's back up to the preschool years where the language development growth spurt begins.

Start with easier questions that require fewer verbal skills and less complex thinking skills.

Here's a basic guide for question development:

1-2 yrs

  • Answers simple "where" questions by pointing e.g. Child points to answer "Where's Daddy?"
  • Answers simple yes/no questions with head shake or nod
  • Answers simple "what" questions about common objects
  • Asks a question by using rising intonation e.g. "Cookie?" in place of "May I have a cookie?"2-3 yrs.
  • Answers longer questions e.g."What____doing?", "Who is___?", "Where___?"
  • Answers "Can you___?"
  • Asks "Where__?", "What__?", "Who__?" questions

3-4 yrs

  • Answers more difficult questions such as, "who", "why", "where", and "how"
  • Answers "If___what___?" questions such as "If you get hot, what can you do?"
  • Answers questions regarding function such as, "What do you do with a brush?"
  • Asks "Why?" (far too frequently)
  • Asks questions using all the "wh" words, what, where, when, how, and whose
  • Asks "Is___?" questions

4 yrs

  • Answers "how many" questions (in relation to their knowledge of numbers)
  • Asks questions using correct grammatical structures such as "Do you want to___?", "Can I__?", "Are you___?".

Hopefully I have given you some new insights into how children learn to understand questions and ask questions of their own. You may find it helpful to reread or reflect on my last blog where I talked about how to engage children during story time by reducing the number of questions you ask. In addition to reducing the frequency of your questions, choosing the type of questions that matches the child's level of  development is equally important.

Until next, enjoy, and share.


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  • Jane Smith
  • 5 Sep 2018
  • 6:16 pm

I had no idea a seemingly simple thing like the way a question is phrased could be so relevant to a child's developmental progress. Interesting article, Jerri.

  • Jerri
  • 6 Sep 2018
  • 7:57 am

Glad you found it informative, Jane. Thanks for your feedback. Jerri

  • Barbara Markee
  • 7 Sep 2018
  • 4:35 pm

Jerri, your blog is so interesting. Hope you are well.

  • Jerri
  • 8 Sep 2018
  • 8:21 am

Thanks, Barbara. Glad you are enjoying them.

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