Get examples of open ended questions for kids with these conversation starters! Perfect for kids to practice creative and critical thinking skills.
At the dentist’s office, my six-year-old pulled out the map he’d been drawing. He sat sketching the rest of it when a woman waiting noticed his map.
“Wow, is that a map?” she asked. Before he could answer, she continued, “Is it a treasure map?”
He and I both knew he wasn’t drawing a treasure map. But, as it sometimes happens when caught off guard, he responded, “Yes.”
She pressed on. “Where’s the treasure? Don’t forget to put an ‘X’ on the spot. And is that the ocean?”
My son clammed up.
You see, the map wasn’t a treasure map at all. Instead, the map depicted the Los Angeles freeways and streets we often drive on. He has a fascination with which freeways lead to where and which exits to take. He can tell you the exact directions to his grandma’s house. And he draws pages and pages then hangs them as posters.
Except the woman won’t know any of this. And that’s the downside with not asking open ended questions. We project our own interpretation before a child has a chance to share his.
What are open ended questions?
Confession time: Most questions I ask my kids are not open-ended:
“Do you want a pear or a banana?”
“Did you already use the potty?”
“What did you make in art class today?”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with questions like these. After all, I need to know whether we should have another potty break or which fruit to serve with dinner. But sometimes we get caught up in facts and one-word answers that we forget to ask open-ended questions.
What’s the difference between open- and closed-ended questions like those I shared? Open ended questions…
- Invite more than a one-word or one-phrase answer, especially “yes” or “no.”
- Don’t assume and instead encourage discussion.
- Give control of the conversation to the person answering.
- Encourage the person answering to think more deeply and thoughtfully.
Open ended questions are important because they encourage creative and critical thinking skills in early childhood. We’re less likely to make assumptions, and instead encourage discussion. And finally, we allow kids to open up, communicate more, and even have more control of the conversation.
The scene at the dentist’s office made me realize how much we project our assumptions. For instance, I’ve said many times to my kids, “Did you have a good day?” instead of asking, “What did you do today?” Already saying “good” closes the conversation to a “yes” or “no” response.
It also implies I’m more interested and prefer that he had a good day than a bad one. I don’t want them to feel like I’ll be happy if they respond they had a good day and upset if they didn’t.
Leaving the question open to “How was your day?” or “What did you do today?” keeps the conversation open for more honest discussion.
Open ended questions also let your child explain without us butting in too much. Imagine if the woman at the dentist’s office had stopped at “Is that a map?” Or better, asked, “What is that?”
Open ended questions for kids
With this list, I share examples of open ended questions for the early years you can use to spark conversations with your child during play and learning time.
And I stick to questions that work well with preschoolers. I didn’t want the questions to feel too far in advance for their age, and I also wanted to tap into the kinds of conversations they’d be eager to respond to.
In other words, these are the questions I ask my own kids with fantastic results.
With the nature of open ended questions, this isn’t a definitive list at all, but consider them starter prompts. You can ask one per day, or learn to be more aware so you can ask them as you see the opportunities to do so.
Here is a list of open ended questions you can ask your child:
- What was your favorite part of the day? Why?
- What makes a nice friend?
- What magic power do you wish you had? Why?
- If you could go anywhere, where would you go? Why?
- What do you think this book is about?
- What are you thankful for today? Why?
- What do you like about school? Why?
- What are you most excited about with (the party / the school performance / going to the restaurant / etc)?
- What did you like the most about the weekend? Why?
- How does it work?
- How did that happen?
- Why did you choose (that book / that shirt / that toy)?
- How are you planning to do that?
- What could we have done instead?
- What else can you use?
- How are these the same / different?
- Why is it important?
- What does this remind you of? Why?
- Show me what you can do with it.
- Tell me what happened.
And take a look at this video to learn 3 mistakes to avoid that squash open-ended conversations:
Don’t assume you know
I do my kids a disservice when I already assume I know what they drew or made. When I ask something specific—no matter how obvious to me—they get taken aback.
Today my three-year-old gave me pretend food he was “cooking.” The toy itself looked like a pile of beans. So when I said, “Ooh… beans!” he looked confused and corrected me, saying, “Pizza!”
Apparently he was cooking pizza, and since we don’t have a toy pizza, he used the next best thing he could find.
No doubt, close ended questions are important as well. We need facts and quick answers. We want to know whether our kids already brushed their teeth or what book they want to read. Close ended questions aren’t the evil of the world.
But don’t rely only on close ended questions, especially when encouraging conversation. When in doubt, say, “Tell me about that.” The woman at the dentist’s office would’ve learned the “treasure map” was actually Los Angeles.
We get caught up with day-to-day survival mode that it’s easy to overlook the benefits of asking good open ended questions. But we need to get in the habit of asking these, and training ourselves to encourage conversations and creative thinking.
Hopefully with this list, you now have a few questions to ask. These make for wonderful dinner time discussion or end-of-the-day bedtime rituals.
After all, as important as it is to know which fruit your child prefers—pear or banana—it’s just as crucial to ask why.
Get more tips:
- 18 Sneaky Questions to Ask Kids about School
- 12 Children’s Books about Empathy to Read with Your Child
- Amazing Family Conversation Starters to Try Right Now
- 31 Totally Awesome Conversation Starters for Kids
Want to learn more about how to ask open ended questions and talk to your child in an effective way (plus other parenting tips you can apply right away)? Download the bonus chapter of Parenting with Purpose—at no cost to you. You’ll also get my newsletters, which parents say they LOVE:
“Thank you for this awesome perspective! It is calming and much easier to manage my daughter’s defiance and strong will with this in mind! I will remind myself of this many times.” -Talia Telander