The Importance of Aimless Questions

Did you ever get bombarded with ‘why?’ questions?  Did it drive you mad, so that you wanted to shout ‘Shut Up!’ ?  I did.  One of my children, in particular was relentless in asking endless questions when he was a preschooler, so that there were times that my ears would be ringing and my brain aching at the end of the day from trying to answer his questions kindly and intelligently .

I really appreciate the writings of Charlotte Mason.  Her work is not easy to read, and you won’t find any ‘quick answers’ or silver bullets in her writing.  But I have found that I have uncovered so many nuggets of truth and wisdom there, that it does affect the way I relate to the children and how I approach teaching and learning at home.

One passage that I have enjoyed is this one from “Home Education”, which is the first volume in the “Home Education Series”.  On page 68 you can read Miss Mason’s thoughts about how we expect a small child to learn ‘through the medium of words’ rather than by experiencing things.

Read here, how Miss Mason puts it:

We older people, partly because of our maturer intellect, partly because of our defective education, get most of our knowledge through the medium of words.  We set the child to learn in the same way, and find him dull and slow. 


Because it is only with a few words in common use that he associates a definite meaning; all the rest are no more to him than the vocables of a foreign tongue. 

But set him face to face with a thing, and he is twenty times as quick as you are in knowing all about it; knowledge of things flies to the mind of a child as steel filings to a magnet.  And pari passu [A Latin phrase meaning ‘equal footing’] with his knowledge of things, his vocabulary grows; for it is a law of the mind that what we know, we struggle to express. 

This fact accounts for many of the apparently aimless questions of children; they are in quest, not of knowledge, but of words to express the knowledge they have. 

Now, consider what a culpable waste of intellectual energy it is to shut up a child, blessed with this inordinate capacity for seeing and knowing, within the four walls of a house, or the dreary streets of a town. 

Charlotte Mason says in this passage that the questions are a sign the child is learning and is searching for ways to express his knowledge.  And this is a better way for children to learn, along with the experience, play and experiment that Charlotte Mason talks about in the passage.  Knowing this somehow helps to make answering the questions a fun thing to do.  It gives  meaning to the work of parenting and enriches life.

If you want to know more about Charlotte Mason you can download a biography that I have written.  It’s free and it’s available here:

And you can read more articles about Charlotte Mason here:

(All comments, opinions and thoughts welcome; scroll down and leave your comment.)

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The Importance of Aimless Questions — 2 Comments

  1. Stephanie,

    Thanks so much for your comments in the above article. What a timely reminder to be patient and thoughtful in our answers to our little ones.

    Keep up the great work!