Why do children ask questions?

 Found in Intellectual Growth in Young Children by Susan Isaacs (Routledge, London 1930) this collection of children's questions. Susan Sutherland Isaacs (1885 - 1948) was an educational psychologist. Basically she bellieved that children learn best through play. For her, play involves a perpetual form of experiment..."at any moment, a new line of inquiry or argumemt might flash out, a new step in understanding be taken". This is where the chapter on questions comes in. It was actually written by her husband Nathan Isaacs (1895 - 1961). He was a metallurgist but collaborated on her later work. The piece after the selection of questions goes some way towards explaining their significance.

 Why do ladies not have beards? 

 Why are the funnels (on a boat) slanting?

 Why do animals not mind drinking dirty water?

 Why have you got little ears and I have big ones although I am small?

It (exit of a tunnel at a distance) looks very weeny. Why does it?

 Why are the snails in the water?

Why can I put my hand through water and not through soap?

What's there? (Of houses behind a fence at night) House. Why can't we see them?

Why won't it (wet raffia held in fire) burn?

Susan Isaacs as a child.
(National Portrait Gallery)

(Seeing word PULL on lavatory Pull), Why are there two l's? We don't need two, do we? One would do wouldn't it? Why has it got PULL? We know what to do, don't we? We don't need that, do we?

Why does the soap look smaller in water?

Why don't they (shadows) go before us?

Why can't we see the stars in the day-time?

Why doesn't the butter stay on top (of hot toast)?

Why does the water spread out flat (in the bath)? Why won't it keep up in the middle?

Why do you see the lightning before you hear the thunder?

Why am I not in two all the way up?

Why does the glass look different in the water, but it doesn't if you just put water in the glass? The water can't really bend the glass, can it?

Why can't we sharpen them (pencils) like they were when we first got them, all round and smooth?

Why does water go out of the way when anything goes in?

Why don't trains stop and start off suddenly express?

Why do the angels never fall down to earth when there is no floor to heaven?

Why can't you see the messages on the telegraphy wires? How do they go?

Hasn't it (sparrow) any teeth? Why hasn't it?

In the above examples there is always, either directly presented or close to the surface, some habitual experience, some natural expatiation from habitual experience, which appears falsified, or challenged, or at least confused, by present fact. The snail in the water, when snails are always found on land; the sparrow which so surprisingly is found not to have any teeth like the animals familiarly known to the child; the water that, unlike other things, goes out of the way when anything goes in; the express trains that are supposed to go as fast as possible, but are so slow in starting and stopping; the pencils that can't be sharpened now as they certainly were sharpened at the start; the tunnel exit that looks so small, quite unlike any tunnel exit one has ever gone through; and so on and so forth; all these things are matters that need explaining. In other words, they need so dealing with that you will know when to expect the one kind of fact, and when the other, how the queer fact is brought about and the usual one prevented, or whether, by any chance, the queer fact is not so at all (one "thought it was funny"): whatever, in brief, you need in order to make this fact like other facts, and to get over the hitch or difficultly.

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