Many parents get exasperated when their child asks “Why?”, and then asks “Why?” again to the answer they receive. But not me.
How can this be? We have two children under the age of 5, full of curiosity and convinced that I have all the answers. You can bet they ask “Why?” all the time.
There’s a reason that I can keep my cool, and that’s because no one ever asks “Why?” more than four times in a row.
The Rule of Four Whys
A while ago, I proposed the following rule in our house, and somehow, the kids went along with it. In fact, they enforce it on each other, sometimes more strenuously than I do.
Here’s the rule: You can ask “Why?” at any time and for any reason. But if you ask it four times in a row, you have to answer the question yourself!
You see, I’m happy to answer my children when they ask a question. And I’m quite pleased when they dig a little deeper and question the answer that they’ve been given. I’m completely over the moon when they dig even deeper for that third question.
But that Fourth Why…that Fourth Why is the mark of a true explorer, and I want to honor it.
So, when I hear that Fourth Why, I ask my child, “What do you think the answer is?” And it’s an invitation to a larger world.
“Why?” is the Most Important Question When We Try to Answer It Ourselves
As parents, we have a choice. We can view the incessant questions of our children as a distraction, a challenge to our roles as teacher and guide. Or we can see those questions for what they are: expressions of the deeply felt need to understand a strange and amazing world.
Curiosity is the cornerstone of learning. It is the first step into adventure. It’s the beginning of experiment & exploration.
Curiosity teaches us to see with new eyes everyday. It helps us to connect more deeply with the world around us. It allows us to admit that there are things that we don’t understand.
Curiosity drives us to ask “Why?”, and in seeking the answer, we find that we have gained more than we ever expected.
“Why?” is the most important question because without it, we would never grow. We would stagnate. We would die without having lived.
Three Ways to Foster Curiosity
What are some ways to cultivate that sense of curiosity in yourself or in those you love? Well, here are three suggestions:
Find ways to develop your wonder-muscle
As we get older, it’s only natural to take things for granted. To let the ordinary fade into the background. To become jaded. So take a moment each day to look at the world with the eyes of a child. Enjoy something as if it were the first time you saw it. And take note when something unexpected happens, no matter how small. As you develop that muscle, it will get stronger and feel more natural to see with eyes of wonder.
Play the Game of Four Whys
Once you’ve started noticing the unexpected and wonderous, you’ll find yourself asking questions. So make it a game! Find someone else with a curious spirit, and ask them about something that’s been puzzling you. When they give you their opinion, question it further. Then question the follow-up answer as well. But once you get to the Fourth Why, you need to try to answer the question yourself.
Test Your Hypothesis
Your answer to the Fourth Why is your hypothesis. Like any good scientist, you need to figure out a way to test it and either confirm or refute the explanation you’ve come up with. This part takes some practice, but you can try to develop a good experiment with the help of your partner from the Game of Four Whys. (Hopefully you picked someone good!)
Observation. Analysis. Hypothesis. Experiment. Conclusion. This is the basis of the Scientific Method. But it doesn’t require a test tube or a microscope.
All it takes is a sense of wonder, a curious heart, and a willingness to entertain the most important question of all.
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