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  • by Angela Russ-Ayon

Asking Young Children Open-Ended Questions about Math and Measurement - Early Childhood

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

Are you using effective teacher-child interactions consistently throughout the day? This would include recognizing the cues young children give you, being responsive to those cues, acknowledging their feelings or emotions, helping them resolve their own problems, redirecting challenging behavior, leaving your emotional baggage at home, and supporting positive peer relationships.

When you ask children questions that encourage them to develop their own ideas, you help them process... think...solve their own problems. It's not about the destination; it's about how they get there. A short "yes" or "no" answer stops the brain from processing. Brain pathways come to a screeching halt when they are just about to connect. When you present children with alternatives and encourage them to think for themselves, you can help them articulate their decision-making process.

What you want is to prompt a "serve and return" interaction, as if you are on a tennis court sending the ball a child's way. Each time a child hits the ball back to you, you launch it over the net again with an open-ended inquiry and well-thought-out responses. It will take a while for a child to return the ball to you because children need time to observe, analyze, and reason. But the ball will eventually come back, and when it does, send it bouncing over the net to them again. Continue playing an effective game and building conversation skills.

In recent MATH workshops, we expanded upon an activity that introduced natural comparisons using the movement of our bodies. We partnered up and acted out simple statements such as, "If I curl in a ball, and you stand tall. Then I will be much shorter than you," touching on the concepts of wider, shorter, and farther away. After such an activity, the children would remain standing with their partners.

The attendees broke into groups and developed questions they could ask the children to delve deeper into "serve and return" experiences. Here are some examples of open-ended questions they came up with to encourage the children to think for themselves:

  1. What if he stands like this, and you stand like that?

  2. How can you make yourselves wider?

  3. What if he puts on this hat?

  4. What if you move slower next time?

  5. What if you curl up and he lays flat on the floor?

  6. How can you find out how far apart you are?

  7. What if you both move the same way?

  8. Why do you think she's/he's shorter?

  9. How can you tell who's taller if you both stand tall?

  10. What would happen if you added another friend?

  11. What if you both faced the other way?

You will notice a common thread here with questions that begin with...

How can you...?

What if you ... ?

How can you find...?

How else can you ... ?

Why do you think...?

How can you tell...?

What will happen if...?

Give children time to respond to your inquiry. They need at LEAST 5 seconds or MORE to process and formulate a response... mostly more.

Young children can understand basic math skills without mastering math foundations, especially when given the proper support. They are naturally observant and curious. They develop their own understanding of what you teach them based on the concepts they have been exposed to in their everyday experiences with family, friends, and caregivers. For instance, they may already sort their shoes, retrieve two treats when they see two dogs, fill their glasses half full, or collect rocks and leaves.

At this age, math is easy and fun for everybody to explore! Good luck! And feel free to share your experiences, so I can pass them on to our readers!


Author of: The BIG Book of Open-Ended Questions to Intentionally Support Young Children in Learning: Topics for Preschool thru 1st Grade

Angela Russ-Ayon is a mom-preneur, children’s author, interactive trainer on the subject of early childhood, and award-winning artist/producer of music for young children. She presents educational strategies to child care providers, parents, and teachers nationwide for AEYCs, R & Rs, and the like. She is a member of the Recording Academy and is the sole owner of Russ InVision Records. For more information on Angela, her workshops, keynotes, and accomplishments, you are welcome to visit © 2021, Russ InVision. All rights reserved.

Find out more about Angela Russ-Ayon and her affordable interactive keynote and workshop presentations coast-to-coast on the subjects of early childhood development, STEM (science and math), open-ended questions, and creative engagement. Visit her training page. offers fun songs and physical activities for distance learning, virtual classes, webinars, child care facilities, after-school programs, homeschooling, preschools, daycare centers, kindergarten classes, or rainy day recesses.

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For information: Contact: Angela Russ-Ayon

Phone: 562-421-1836

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