Question: When is a question not a question?
Answer: When it’s a wondering question.
But what is a “wondering question" you’re probably wondering. It’s not so much a question as it is an invitation to ponder and reflect on a situation, a feeling, or an issue. Wondering questions give kids opportunities to express themselves without worrying about whether their answer is right or wrong. It’s a marvelous, open-ended connection, linking the imagination to the spirit.
You’ll find lots of wondering questions in Dwell, questions tailor-made to help your kids enter into the story, to imagine themselves in it, and to figure out what the story means to them. Why place such a high value on stimulating kids’ imaginations through wondering questions?
Developmental psychologists have determined that imagination plays a central role in young children’s growth and development. By using their imaginations, children formulate ideas about God, about adult roles, and about how the world works. “The magnificent and untainted imagination of young children draws them toward the stories of the Bible,” writes Ivy Beckwith in Postmodern Children’s Ministry (p. 50). “They are easily persuaded to wonder about the power, love, and mysteries of God.” Thus much of a child’s early spiritual life is rooted in the imagination.
But wondering questions aren’t just for little ones. Older children and adults too grow through imagining. “Exercising our imagination in Bible study can make the characters of the story come alive for us, and may even help us sense the reality of God’s love and grace in new ways,” says Catherine Stonehouse in Joining Children on the Spiritual Journey (p. 212).
She suggests that leaders dust off their imaginations as they prepare to tell God’s story. “When we have been there in our imagination, the story becomes real to us and comes alive for the children as we tell it.” So as you prepare to teach, wonder how you would have felt if you were there when this story happened. Wonder what you would have heard, smelled, seen. . . .
Wondering questions remind leaders and kids alike that we do not and cannot know everything. Faith is a mystery, and some questions can’t be answered. “If I introduce children to a God who is so small I can explain everything about him, I am shortchanging the children,” writes Bob Keeley in Helping our Children Grow in Faith (p. 50). “Part of the wonder of God is that we will never fully understand him.” Wondering questions help us become comfortable with this reality ourselves, as well as teach children this important truth about life and faith. If kids know it’s okay to ask hard questions, they’ll be more comfortable exploring the boundaries of their faith later in their development as they begin to make their parents’ and their church’s faith truly their own.
Another value of wondering questions is the opportunity to delve beyond the world of right and wrong answers. If you only ask kids questions that have right answers, they’ll tend to think only on a factual level. When we ask questions that require more thought, children become more creative and think more deeply about God’s story.
Wondering questions promote dialogue because they level the playing field between adults and children. Statistics show that teachers in a school classroom may ask up to four hundred questions a day. How much time does that leave for children’s questions? When we ask wondering questions, we encourage everyone to share their ideas, creating a richer community. Children’s responses to these questions will give you insights into their personalities and their thinking. The ideas that emerge from their young minds and hearts may surprise you. We all learn and grow through pondering the meaning of Scripture passages, and wondering questions are ideal vehicles to ensure that this happens in your classroom.
Asking wondering questions may require some practice, and encouraging good responses may require some patience. Here are some helpful tips:
- Ask wondering questions in addition to the other three types of questions we discussed in the previous chapter.
- Note that answers to information and explanation questions in particular will help you ascertain that the children have really heard the story, ensuring that your wondering questions are based on information kids have internalized.
- Wondering questions invite children to take time to imagine and reflect. You will need to allow for periods of reflective silence, a significant goal of Dwell. If taking time for quiet reflection and thoughtfulness is unfamiliar to the children, explain the wondering question/answer process well, emphasizing that there are no right or wrong answers, and that sometimes nobody will answer the question because they are thinking and responding to it in their minds. Emphasize that it’s okay to be quiet for a while and respect everyone’s need for time to think.
- Use body language that encourages reflection by looking down as you ask the question and waiting to make eye contact with the children for about ten seconds.
- Invite children to ask their own wondering questions too. Explain that one question may start them thinking about other questions, and that they are welcome to ask their own wondering questions.
- Be aware that wondering questions may send your carefully planned session into new directions—and time frames. That’s okay! By asking wondering questions you are giving the Holy Spirit time and room to work. And following the Spirit’s lead is sure to make for something good!