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!