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I have a 3.5-year-old who seems to be a bright spark (I know every parent thinks this :). She is asking:

  • What is water made of? (answered rain)
  • What is air made of? (answered gas like steam coming out of the kettle but different)
  • What is straw made of? (answered really big dead grass)
  • What is grass made out of? (answered really little green 'cells' that drink sun)
  • What are leaves? (answered like grass on but on trees to drink the sun and feed the tree)

I would like to know how to best explain these concepts, balancing complex advanced concepts (gases etc.) versus dismissing with a limiting un-scientific answer?

  • 1
    Hello, and welcome to the Parenting Stack. Requests for specific websites or videos are difficult to answer, since they may change overtime. However, were you to change your question to the more general question of how you can answer her questions and stimulate her development, I'm sure you would get some good answers. – SQB Sep 18 '15 at 12:06
  • On another note (math) She is also old enough to be helping you shopping. You can ask her to fetch 3 red apples and 2 green pears - teaches her counting and colours too – mplungjan Nov 28 '17 at 22:08
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Rather than answering all her questions correctly and fully, what is important to help her develop a scientific mind is to spark her interest in the scientific method:

The steps of the scientific method are to:

  • Ask a Question
  • Do Background Research
  • Construct a Hypothesis
  • Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
  • Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
  • Communicate Your Results

A 3.5 year old can't do all of these things yet in the way an older kid could, but you can guide her to begin the process. She's already asking questions so that's a good start!

I'd suggest you spend time taking your daughter out into nature. Let her play scientist by collecting different kinds of leaves, and ask her why she thinks some leaves look different from others. Have her pull apart a flower to see the parts inside, and ask her what she thinks the parts might be for. Find some insects or other small invertebrates under a log; she will naturally start observing their behavior.

You won't have all the answers to her questions, but that's okay. Feed her inquisitive mind by helping her find things out on her own.

And if you want to do some research on your own or together with her to find some age appropriate answers to the "why" questions with websites or videos, that's fine too, but it should be supplemental the emphasis on exploration and inquisitiveness.

  • Fantastic answer. Not only does this encourage curiosity in a young mind, but it also gets her out of the house to new places. This also gives the whole family an activity they can share. – Thassa Sep 18 '15 at 12:33
  • Thanks this is a great start. She definitely is interested in flowers and plants at the moment so we can start asking questions there. – lindsaymacvean Sep 18 '15 at 13:23
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    This also addresses what may be another purpose for her questions. Often children ask "why" and "what does this mean" when what they are really saying is "interact with me". My daughter has aphasia and apraxia, so she has difficulty communicating. She discovered that asking the word "why?" whenever somebody said something to her would result in that person talking more. Since she was unable to carry on an interactive conversation she could at least get a one sided one. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Sep 18 '15 at 18:50
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If you don't know the answer then it's a great excercise to look for the answer with your child.

The child will love doing it because they're doing it with you. You'll show your child how to find answers to questions. You might learn something too, even if it is a new way of explaining something.

It would be extra awesome to go to a library instead of Google. I loved doing that with my Dad.

To help your child remember you could keep a scrapbook.

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