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Meaningful Play: Asking Questions

Meaningful Play: Asking Questions

By Janell Cleland and Ann Riebock

The second in a series of articles from two retired educators and involved grandparents who wondered how to translate their career experiences into practical activities with their grandchildren.

Even at a young age, children can fall into a pattern of “yes” and “no” responses. Our best attempts to draw out the details of their lives can be clipped to polite but brief responses that can change to groans and eye rolling by adolescence. Maybe a shift in our questioning technique can help us navigate the I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-it phase early in our grandchild’s life.

Janell’s story:

For me, this happens on our car ride home from pre-school.  I let my inner investigative reporter emerge – consciously shifting from my tendency to ask “yes” and “no” questions to questions that encourage an extended response.

Who did you play with today?  (rather than “Did you play with Eric today?”)

What (or where) did you play today? (rather than “Did you play outside today?”)

When you go outside, what is your favorite activity? (rather than “Do you like to play on the swings?”)

How did you feel while you were playing? (rather than “Was it fun?”)

Why do you like playing outside? (rather than “Is playing outside your favorite activity?”)

These easy-to-remember question starters provide the potential for an informative (and often entertaining) ride home or a mealtime filled with conversation.

Ann’s story:

Our oldest granddaughter became a “tween” recently with changing interests. On occasion, I watch her escape suddenly to experiment with my or her mother’s phone. Typically, she is snapping funny selfie photos using an app on the phone or she is making a demonstration video of some everyday process.  When she emerges from her “project,” I have an opportunity to use questions to better understand how her interests and perspectives are growing as well as helping her to think more critically and broadly.

May I see your newest project? (showing interest in what she is doing)

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What was your inspiration for that? (reflecting on her intention)

If you were to release this on the Internet, whom do you hope will watch it?  (thinking about her thinking)

What do you think others who watch this will find most interesting? (thinking of others’ perspectives)

By consciously expressing my interest in her interests and asking questions that help her reflect more deliberately on her projects offer an opportunity for us both to grow together.

Final reflection:

We often spend mundane time with our grandchildren, and it’s easy to let everyday conversations become rote in nature, asking the same questions each time or failing to listen carefully to our grandchildren’s responses. When we make small changes in the kinds of questions we ask, the conversations deepen in ways that are rewarding and insightful.


Janell and Ann are retired educators who spent their careers working in public school settings as teachers, administrators, mentors and consultants. In each of their roles as educators, they sought to help students think critically and creatively and to seek understanding of others’ perspectives. Their expertise in learning theory and reading development provided them with a foundation to experiment with ways to deepen their conversations with their grandchildren.

Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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