Get examples of open ended questions for kids with these good conversation starters! Perfect to practice creative and communication skills.
At the dentist’s office, my son pulled out the map he’d been drawing. He sat sketching the rest of it when a woman noticed his map.
“Wow, is that a map?” she asked. Before my kiddo 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—or when a stranger questions him—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, he was drawing a map of the Los Angeles freeways and streets we often drove on. He had (and still 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 draw pages and pages of these maps.
Except the woman won’t know any of this.
And that’s the downside with asking closed ended questions. We project our own opinions and interpretation before our kids have a chance to share theirs.
What are open ended questions?
Confession time: Most questions I ask my kids are not open ended. Here are examples of close-ended questions I often ask:
“Do you want a pear or a banana?”
“Did you already use the bathroom?”
“What did you make in art class today?”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with closed ended questions like these. After all, I do need to know whether we should stop for another bathroom 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 more telling open ended questions.
So, what’s the difference between open and closed ended questions like those I shared? Open ended questions…
- Invite more than a one-word response or one-phrase answer, especially “yes” or “no.”
- Don’t assume, and instead encourage discussion and understanding.
- Give control of the conversation to the person answering (instead of steering it back toward the person asking).
- Encourage the person answering to think more deeply and thoughtfully.
- Have no correct answer.
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“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
Why are open ended questions important?
Open ended questions nurture creative and critical thinking skills and help develop vocabulary in early childhood. We’re less likely to make assumptions, and instead encourage discussion. And we allow kids to open up with endless possibilities, communicate more, and even have control of the topic.
The scene at the dentist’s office made me realize how much we project our assumptions. For instance, I’ve asked my kids many times, “Did you have a good day?” Already saying “good” closes the conversation to a “yes” or “no” response, and more than likely, the answer will be a “yes.”
It also implies I prefer that they have a good day than a bad one. I don’t want them to feel like I’ll only be happy if they say they had a good day (and upset if they didn’t).
Instead, we could ask open ended questions that allow kids to fill in the blank with whatever words they want to describe their day. Leaving the question open to “How was your day?” or “What did you do today?” keeps the lively conversation open for more honest discussion.
And finally, open ended types of questions also let them explain and talk without us butting in too much. Imagine if the woman at the dentist’s office had stopped at “Is that a map?” and allowed my son to explain himself. Or even better, what if she simply asked, “What is that?”
20 examples of open ended questions for kids
Below are examples of great questions you can use to spark meaningful conversations during play and learning time.
I also stick to questions that work well with young kids, preschoolers, and toddlers, questions that won’t feel too far in advance for their age. And I wanted to tap into the kinds of conversations they’d be eager to respond to. In other words, these are fun questions I ask my own kids with fantastic results.
With the nature of open ended questions, this, of course, 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 the best part of your day? Why?
- What makes a good 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 grateful for? Why?
- What did you like about school today? Why?
- What are you most excited about with (the party / our vacation / going to the restaurant / tomorrow)?
- 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.
Don’t assume you know
We do our kids a disservice when we already assume we know what they drew or made or how their day went. When we ask something specific—no matter how obvious to us—they sometimes get taken aback by our questions.
For instance, my son was “cooking” and gave me pretend food that looked like a blob of black beans. So, when I said, “Ooh… beans!” he looked confused and corrected me, saying, “Pizza!”
Apparently, he was cooking pizza, and since we didn’t have pretend food that looked like 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, after all. We want to know whether our kids already brushed their teeth or what movie they want to watch. Close ended questions aren’t the evil of the world.
But don’t rely only on close ended questions, especially when encouraging conversation, or out of habit. When in doubt, say, “Tell me more” to hear meaningful answers. The woman at the dentist’s office would’ve learned the “treasure map” was actually a map of 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
- How to Encourage Open Ended Play (And Why It’s Important)
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