Wh-Questions: The When, Why, and How

wh questions when why how

Aaaaaaah. The when, why, and how questions.

Otherwise known as “the intangibles.”

I’m going to break these up, because I approach each one differently.


For when questions, you first have to teach the concept of time. No, not the whole thing. But you do need to pick 3-6 different “time” words you want your child to learn first. Personally, I would teach “morning,” “noon,” “night,” for sure, and then I would also think about words like “before” and “after” or “first” and “then.” This will also help with teaching “how” questions, since they tend to be sequencing questions.

Now, I’m not gonna lie, I have an awesome activity to teach “when” questions. You will need:

  • 3 plates
  • pictures of undeniably breakfast, lunch, and dinner foods

You have your child pick a picture- this could be out of a box, out of a hat, or show two and have your child pick one. Then, you ask your child, “When do we eat ______?” Your child then answers morning, noon, or night. You then repeat their answer as a full sentence (“We eat pancakes in the morning!”), and they get to put the food on the correct plate.

People, I have done this with special needs preschoolers. It is awesome and they catch on quickly. Just remember a lot of modeling and a lot of praise.


Why is the BIG jump- where a child moves into logical thinking, empathy, and all the other goodies. For these types of questions, I would teach a “carrier phrase.” Or, in this case, a carrier word. Teach your child to answer “why” questions with “because…” Sometimes having that carrier word is enough to get them talking. There is always time to teach other responses later.

I would caution you to be mindful of asking “why” questions that are too vague. Practicing “why” questions should focus on everyday items, routines, and people. Think “Why do we brush our teeth?” or “Why do we eat lunch?” Giving your child something familiar to refer to helps a lot.

This is also a great question to sabotage. I know I talk a lot about sabotage, but kids seriously think that grown-ups saying the wrong thing is downright hilarious. So maybe say, “Why do we eat dinner in the morning?” Then, totally let your kids call you out on it.


When introducing how questions, I would stick with basic sequencing questions like, “How do you make lemonade?” or “How does the Three Little Pigs go?” The key here is that you have to ask about routines, stories, and tasks that have a specific sequence. For instance, if you don’t have a strict bedtime routine, it’s not really fair to ask your child about it.

There are tons of ideas on my Pinterest board for sequencing activities. Most of them have free printables and/or are paired with a story.

I am sure you will get sick of hearing this, but these are also perfect questions for SABOTAGE! Put the pictures in the wrong order, do steps in the wrong order, whatever. When else can you do something wrong on purpose?!?

I hope this has helped. Just remember that wh-questions are hard, and some are more abstract than others.

Please comment below if you try some of these strategies! Also, follow me on Pinterest and Twitter for ideas and updates!

Wh-Questions: What, Where, and Who

wh questions who what where

Today we are continuing our discussion on wh-questions, and moving into activities to teach children how to answer them.

The focus of this post is the easier question types on the hierarchy (see THIS post for more information on this)- the what, where, and who questions.

As I mentioned on Monday, these questions typically deal with something tangible and present. You can use that to your advantage in teaching them!

The first step is to teach your child the meaning of “who” and “where.” Depending on your child’s abilities, you may be able to phrase it as ” a who question is a what-person question” and “a where question is a what-place question.” You can also teach that a “who question is a person/animal question” and “a where question is a place question.” Either way works, it’s just a matter of which one your child responds to.

To do this, try having several pictures of different places and people/animals. Basic flashcards would work for this, as well as just a quick google search. Just go through them with your child and have them identify “who” or “where.” This step may seem silly, but it will save you a whole lot of repetition of “who/where is a person/place question.”

Once your child knows what each question word is asking, you can start asking questions. Once again, stick to the here and now. Books with great pictures like the No David! series, and basic look-and-find books are a great place to start. I would stay away from I-Spy books and Where’s Waldo? books at this point because they are visually very overwhelming.

I had some great resources as a speech therapist with a few products from Super Duper. The first was silly scenes with accompanying questions. I don’t know if my brain is foggy because I’m battling a cold, but I couldn’t find this particular product on their website. But it is easily reproducible with a scene in a book or a picture. Or you could even draw one if you like. To make it even more relevant to your child, a picture of a family reunion or something like that would be awesome! Also, if your child is able to play a board game like Guess Who? you can modify it so that you are practicing wh-questions.

If your child responds well to flashcards or technology, Super Duper also sells wh-question cards. Here’s the deal though- apparently it is about $70 for the five question sets! Yikes!! Buuuuuuut… they sell the app with all the flashcards for just $11.99! HERE is the link.

Finally, there are play-based games you can do to sneak wh-questions into your child’s day. You could play I-Spy in your house- just be sure to use the question words! I also want to share a game I play with Chicka Chicka that has a 100% engagement rate. Take 3-6 stuffed animals and hide them around your house. Turn off all the lights, and give your child a flashlight to find the stuffed animals. When your child finds one, ask them, “Where was that animal?” and then they have to answer before you retrieve the stuffed animal. This typically works better if you hide them in places your child can’t reach- like up on top of a curtain rod or in a cupboard (with a leg or arm sticking out, of course). Chicka Chicka has never not wanted to play this game.

I also have lots of fun ideas on my Pinterest boards, as well as lists of wh-questions. Go HERE to check them out!

I hope this has inspired you to find fun ways to work on simple wh-questions! Stay tuned as I move into why and how questions, and then, finally, the toughie- having your child ASK questions!

How to Ask Questions to Get Answers

wh question series final

When I worked in the special needs preschool, I would say about 60-75% of my caseload had an answering wh-questions goal. I also added a wh-questions goal to lower-functioning students as soon as I thought it fell into their zone of proximal development (re: the fancy term for what they can do with assistance).

So why is answering wh-questions so important? I could rant about how the school system is flawed and only wants kids to able to answer standardized questions, but that’s simply not true. Everyone needs to be able to ask AND answer wh-questions in order to gain and process information in both academic and social settings.

So now to the inspiration for the above image. Have you ever felt like you go around and around with your child trying to get answers to basic questions? You ask “What did you do today at school?” and you get the dreaded “Uuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhh……,” or even better, you get one-word answers like “fine” or “okay” or “I don’t know” to any inquiry about their day.

It’s enough to drive any parent crazy!

Well today I want to explain the question hierarchy and ways to phrase your questions to get real answers and spark conversation with a child of any age or ability.

The question hierarchy has to do with the level of processing required for different types of questions. Trust me, it’s not as daunting as it sounds.

  • “What” questions are typically the easiest to process. They usually deal with the here and now, like “What are you doing?” (note: exasperated mom voice optional).
  • “Who” and ” Where” questions come next, only because they require the knowledge of what “who” and “where” means. Since they don’t have any tangible meaning, this has to be taught.
  • “When” questions are the next level up, since time is an abstract concept to many children. (If you’ve ever tried to get a child to school or church on time, you know what I mean!)
  • “Why” and “How” questions are the most difficult to process. “Why” questions usually require more of a thought process, and probably empathy or theory of mind to some degree. “How” questions typically require sequencing of steps.

Consider this hierarchy when asking your child questions. It may be that asking them “Why did you do that?” is too difficult, but they could answer “What were you trying to do?”

Next, two rules for getting answers!

One: Make your questions tangible.

Children do much better answering questions about the here and now. They also do better with visual cues. This makes reading a great opportunity for getting great answers. One of my personal favorites is the “No David!” series by David Shannon. Each page only has a few scolding words, but the pictures are vivid and obvious. It’s so easy to read the actual words and then follow-up with a question like, “What did David do?” Your child can look at the pictures for clues, rather than trying to solely rely on auditory recall.

Two: Make your questions specific.

Questions like, “What did you do today?” are just too broad. Most kids know you expect an answer, but they don’t know what answer you are looking for. Does Mom want to hear about lunch? or that new kid? or my art project? or the homework that was due today?

So take the guesswork out of the question. Rephrase it so they know exactly what you want to hear. ” Who did you play with today?” is much more specific and triggers better recall. It also creates a metaphorical springboard for a conversation. “Oh you played with Kate? She sits next to you for reading time, doesn’t she? What story did you guys read today?”

I also have a few side notes for conversations. First off, once you ask a question, wait for the answer! Go HERE to read a whole post on this. Second, sometimes not asking a question gets you a better response than asking incessant questions. In the above example, you could also say, “Oh you played with Kate? She seems like a good friend.” Then, pause and let your child tell you why Kate is so great (or not). I plan to have a post about this, but I think it’s worth mentioning here as well.

So there you go! Remember the question hierarchy, as well as making your questions tangible and specific! All my posts this week will have insight and activities for teaching your child to answer various wh-questions, so stay tuned!

Days Like This Are Hard…

Today is one of those days.

I took Chicka Chicka grocery shopping with me today. It was supposed to be our girl time. Boom Boom was supposed to be asleep.
Three bathroom runs and a Sam’s Club hot dog later, we get home and the baby is still not sleeping.

He won’t sleep. Not after lunch, not after cuddles, not after some Tylenol because he’s obviously uncomfortable.

Please, not another ear infection.

I have to get the house picked up.

I ask Chicka Chicka to do ONE task, one I know she has done before.

She won’t do it.

The learned helplessness is thriving over here.

The baby still won’t sleep.

I try to ignore the baby’s cries, because I can clean in hyper-drive when he is not underfoot.

Chicka Chicka is using every trick in the book to avoid putting the books back on the shelf.

I am using every trick in my parenting book to please, just please, put the books away.

It’s not about the books.

It’s about me being the parent, about her not running this show called my house.

It’s about me just wanting her to listen and realize that she has to clean up the mess she made.

It’s about me struggling to keep my cool when I am being obviously ignored when I know she understands and is capable of doing what I am asking her.

The baby still won’t sleep.

I don’t know what to do.

Days like this are hard.

The 5-Second Rule

5 second rule final

So originally I was going to have a cute picture of food on the floor and make a clever remark about the “5-second rule.” Buuuuuuut, it turns out it’s really hard to get a “cute” picture of food on the floor. Who knew?!

Today’s post is a simple reminder to have patience with your child. We are so used to having adult conversations where the communication is quick and our minds are able to process what someone is saying and respond in a matter of milliseconds. For children of all abilities, but especially for those with language and/or social impairment, information is processed much slower.

So while it may seem that they are ignoring you, or they don’t understand, it may be, in fact, that they require longer processing times.

When you are giving your child directions, or asking questions, count in your head and give them 5 seconds to respond before repeating or rephrasing. Of course, this can be adjusted as necessary, possible even up to 10-20 seconds. By that time your request was either processed and ignored, they didn’t understand, or didn’t hear you.

I know what you’re thinking- this is too easy! But actively monitoring your own wait time makes you realize how quickly you expect your child to respond. It also helps you to slow down and simplify your communication, which also benefits children.

So give it a try! In honor of Finding Dory coming out soon, I’ll end with “just keep counting, just keep counting…what do we do we COUNT!”

Candyland: The Wonderful Game of Turn-Taking

candyland header final

So today I want to share why I love Candyland, and why it is so awesome in it’s simplicity!

It’s no secret that Candyland is easy. You just pick a card, and do what it says. There’s not even words, just pictures! Then, it’s the other person’s turn. And around and around and around.

This turn-taking game is the perfect way to introduce the concept of taking turns to very young children. Most children struggle with taking turns and/or sharing, but especially those with autism, ADHD, or other social difficulties may need additional help in this area. Games like Candyland with fast overturn (meaning the child does not have to wait long for his/her turn to come again) and simple, visual directions lay the foundation for moving into conversational turn-taking. It teaches the “why” of turn-taking without having to be explicit.

Other games that are helpful in teaching turn-taking are Go Fish and Pop Up Pirate.

So I found this particular game board at my local Deseret Industries (a thrift store operated by my church), and at first I was just excited to find it for $1.50! But when I opened it, I may have squealed a bit.

candyland try this one

This board game definitely belonged to a speech therapist or an early childhood teacher. They put all those letters on each color! Bless their hearts.

This is an easy way to sneak in some pre-reading skills to Candyland. I have Chicka Chicka tell me the letter, and then make the sound. Score!

So dig into the depths of your game shelf/closet, and dust off Candyland- it might just make for an awesome fun and educational afternoon!

How to Sabotage Play to Teach Problem-Solving Skills

sabotage final

So today I’ve been feeling sabotaged. I made myself a massive spring cleaning list, but for some reason my kids keep leaving toys on the floor, dropping crumbs under the table, and needing 2-3 clothing changes per day! So inconsiderate. Can’t they tell I can’t do the daily housework AND my spring cleaning? (Hence why things like scrubbing the baseboards and washing walls only happen once a year).

But that frustration inspired this post about sabotage in play. What I love about this concept is that it’s usually never your fault. You can purposefully sabotage play to teach problem-solving and/or communication skills to a child of any age or any ability.

It’s super simple, and I’ll give you three examples of play sabotage with different age groups

  1. For the under 3 crowd, this could be something as simple as blocking the effect in a cause-and-effect toy. Think car ramps, balls that spin down lanes, one of those pop-up toys, any sort of wind-up toy, anything like that. You could put another toy in the way, put your finger there, etc. You decide what communicative response you need from your child to remove the obstacle. This could be making eye contact, making any vocalizations, or asking for help (signing or verbalization). The trick with this age group is to not let your child get too frustrated or they will just give up. You  may need to model what you want your child to do.
  2. For the 4-6 crowd, the idea is something is missing. A puzzle piece, a special doll, a favorite dress-up, the ONLY car that works with a certain Hot Wheels set, etc. In this age group, you are aiming for your child to ask for help looking for it, and working through a thought process to find the missing item. This leads into a productive conversation of “Well, where did you see it last?” ” Where do you think it might be?”
  3. For the 7 and up crowd, I would use silly sabotage. At this age group, they will most likely notice you sneaking something, or they are cognitively high enough to solve the problem themselves. This is where you make a mistake. This could be reading a word wrong, building something wrong, labeling something incorrectly, etc. Totally ham it up when your child calls you on it. Then say something like, “Can you help me fix it?” or “I am so silly, what do you think I can do to fix it?”

Does this strategy make sense? It’s really fun to do and watch a child’s reaction. It is also a great life lesson, because things rarely go the way we plan them to, and children need to learn how to solve problems and adapt.

Give it a try, and please let me know how it goes!

Using Sensory Ideas to Calm Down

Hey sorry I missed yesterday- I was volunteering at a consignment sale and spent my whole day elbow-deep in cute little kid clothes! It totally gave me a case of the baby rabies… and a whole trunk full of goodies to take home!

I’m back on track today, and I want to continue my sensory week and talk about using sensory strategies to help your child calm down.

I have written posts here and here about dealing with emotions, or “big feelings” in children of all abilities. However, I will be the first to admit that a child needs to be calm(er) in order to positively process emotions.

My first offering is making a calm-down jar. If you have ever spent any time on Pinterest, I am sure you have seen these. But they work! In this regard, simpler is better. I would just use colored water and confetti/glitter in a plastic water bottle that is sealed with glue or duct tape. And for the love of all things clean, do not use a mason jar! Even grownups want to break breakable things when they are angry.

The idea with a calm-down jar is that the child shakes or swirls the jar, and then watches as the water and the confetti/glitter settles (generally 15-30 seconds). This is a distraction technique, and children get sucked in to watching the jar and start to calm down.

Since I would love to get some more followers on Pinterest, I have pinned several calm-down jar ideas onto my Pinterest boards, and you can follow THIS link to get to them. Thank you!

My second idea is based on a product designed for autistic children, but it can be adapted for children of all abilities. It is the idea of security. Many (but not all) autistic children can benefit from a weighted vest. There is something about the security and the weight that is calming. I have found this principle to be true in many children, including my own. Even just a blanket, or a box, or a hug (if you know the parents are okay with it!!) can have the same effect. Sometimes children get so overwhelmed that they need someone or something else to intervene.

I learned this third technique while I worked with the special needs preschool population. It is called a “cool-off.” It is basically a time-out, but it is not framed as a punishment, but rather an opportunity to step away from the situation and regroup. I find it works best if a child “cools off” in the same spot every time, with limited sensory input (low lights, low sound, low amount of stuff, etc.).

My final idea is nothing new to parents: coloring. I don’t have any scientific research to back this up, but there is something about coloring that is absorbing and soothing. Maybe it’s the creativity flowing, maybe it’s the repetitive motion, I don’t know. But I may or may not have a Harry Potter coloring book for myself.
To use coloring as a sensory strategy for calming down, I recommend having a specific coloring book for those times, or use a product like Crayola Color Wonder markers that only show up on special paper (in case the markers end up on places they shouldn’t, or get flung).

I would love to hear more ideas on using sensory strategies during those tricky emotional times! Please share or comment below!

Water Table Wednesday!

Sensory water table. spigot

We are on Day 3 of Sensory Week! Whoo-hoo!

So today I am taking advantage of alliteration and calling today Water Table Wednesday!

I have had a water table for a few years, and honestly, I’ve struggled to know what to do with it. I see beautiful, elaborate “mini-worlds” and “sensory bins” made with them on Pinterest and I just know that’s not going to happen. Half the toys will end up in the mud or sandbox, and anything that should not be eaten will most definitely be eaten (water beads, I’m looking at you!)

So today, I want to give you some of the more realistic yet engaging water table activities I’ve found on the internet. A Water Table Wednesday Round-Up, if you will.

Obviously the main reason your child will want to play with a water table is water. But Allison of Learn Play Imagine makes a very good point: some children do not like being forced to be put into (more than likely) cold hose water. Now, I suppose you could bust out lukewarm Evian, but I think we all agree that setting it up and letting your child “discover” the water is a much better option. Plus, an activity that a child chooses is automatically more engaging than an activity they are forced to do. Consider it a perk.

Now, before the internet etiquette police chew me out for not linking to Allison’s website, here is the link. Her opinion on letting a child discover a water activity is embedded in her awesome post about Ice Cube Play! Simply put food coloring and water into ice cube trays, then fill up your water table (or bin, or bucket, etc.) with water. Let your child drop the ice cubes into the water and watch them melt and color the water! If you have older children, you could do this as a race to see who’s ice cube melts the fastest. You could also use Kool-aid mix for the coloring if you are wary of traditional food coloring.

My next one is from No Time for Flash Cards, and it involves bubbles. The link is HERE, but basically you add food coloring to bubbles and whisk them together. How fun, right!! And just in case you aren’t aware, the bubbles will eventually turn murky brown as your child furiously whisks every single color you have in your pantry. If your child may not be able to handle that, I would suggest separate bins for each color mixing.

My next one is from teachpreschool.org., and all you need for this one is those squeezy condiment bottles. I am 93.6% sure I have seen these at the dollar store, so no excuses people! This is a similar concept to the bubble-whisk activity, but you put colored water in the condiment bottles and squeeze. I love this one because there is a muscle-strengthening component of squeezing the bottles, which can be a great way to improve coordination and finger strength (think pre-writing skills!)

My next one comes all the way from the land of koala bears and insects that are just too big, courtesy of childsplaymusic.com.au. This one uses metal bowls, pots/pans, and lids to generate music! Simply add water to the metal bowls to change the pitch, then hit them with a rock or spoon or something! I love this because it teaches cause and effect: when you put more or less water in the bowl, it makes a different sound. You could also talk with an older child about pitch and vibration and such (follow this up with the Magic School Bus episode and voila! a great afternoon).

My final link comes from Where Imagination Grows, and it is the suggestion that I have used with my own children with great success. Set your water table up with soap and wash stuff. This particular link washes animals, but you can also do plastic dolls (and their clothes!), duplos, rocks, basically anything washable! This is so perfect because it is totally child-directed play. Let them guide the play, make choices, and maybe even sneak in a few “problems” that your child can solve!

So here’s to Water Table Wednesday! Don’t feel overwhelmed and inadequate by what you see on Pinterest. Just get outside and let the play happen!

Tuesday Tub Time: Shaving Cream and Paint

Sensory tub time final

You know that song that iconic 90’s song? “Peanut butter jelly time!” *repeat as desired*

Well, I am going to change it up on you and make it, “Shaving cream and painting time!”

Fits perfectly. Someone call MC Hammer.

Because that is my sensory activity for today!

This is so mind-blowingly simple, engaging, and clean up is literally washing everything down the drain!

Stick your kids in the tub, and spray some shaving cream in the tub and on the walls. My personal favorite is the gel kind that squirts blue and then foams up. Just one more level of mom awesomeness, in my kids’ eyes.

* Yes, if your child is young enough, he/she may try to eat the shaving cream. Unless your child is super sensory-proof, they will only taste it once. If you are concerned about this, may I suggest whipped cream. Although I can’t guarantee the easy clean-up of whipped cream.*

Let your kid(s) play in the shaving cream in the tub. You can make silly designs in it, you can make letters in it, you can take turns putting it on arms/legs/head (be sure to label them!), or, my daughter’s personal favorite, spread it out all over the bottom of the tub and make shaving cream angels.

Oh to be 4 again.

Once the novelty begins to wear off, give your tub a fresh squirt of shaving cream and…

wait for it…..

give your kid some washable paints! I personally only use Crayola watercolors because I know they are nontoxic and I am paranoid that Poison Control keeps a record of how many times I’ve already called. Plus, I can vouch that Crayola watercolors wash right off!

Let your kid(s) mix the paint into the shaving cream, talk about mixing colors, make silly mustaches/beards/mermaid hair, pretty much just let your child direct the play!

When you are all done, simply scrub up your child, then rinse the tub! It should all just go down the drain. I’ve never had a problem with the watercolors staining my tub, but my tub is also several shades away from white. If you are worried about it staining, definitely stick to watercolors and maybe limit the dark colors.

This is a perfect rainy day activity. It would also be great outside in a water table with swimsuits on!

Try it and let me know how it goes!