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At the Dinner Table: Tips for Talking Big Ideas with Little People

What do you say when your kids ask silly, crazy, tough questions? Rather than answering, we love listening and questioning!

Though we love offering ideas, we also LOVE asking questions. That’s because as unique individuals we all have different ways of thinking, doing, and responding. Our homes are parallel parenting experiments, and we think that’s fantastic! Like the American experiment, we each have our ideals and goals. Then we have our hypotheses for how to make it all happen. We do our research, make decisions, draw observations, make corrections, and continue to move forward. Along the way, we find family, friends, and resources to help us on our query-filled quest for successful child-rearing.

Ironically the very subjects of our personal American parenting “experiment” are the ones peppering us with even more questions. Throughout each day, our kids seek ways to engage their minds and satisfy their curiosities. From the mundane to the complex, such young, tender intellects naturally come across new discoveries and concepts, try to make sense of the world, and continually pull out the infamous “why?”. Through Primerrily, we trust you’ll find inspirational resources for how to respond to fascinating curiosities presented by your big little thinkers.

Because their little (and sometimes enormous!) questions are often posed over meal or snack times – when they’re digesting food and the day’s discoveries – we welcome you to “our table.” Around Our Dinner Table is where we’ll highlight their questions and inspire your responses.


We appreciate that no parent, auntie, uncle, nana, or pop-pop can ever have the perfect answer to all the kiddie questions we hear each day. So while we can’t be experts in every topic on their minds, we can be experts in what we believe to be the most appropriate way (and “when”) to address their curiosities.

Around Our Dinner Table, we’ll touch upon a range of questions – from the tough to the touching; from the weird to the “whoa.” For our inaugural Around Our Table, we’re serving up a “catch-all” dish for when you just don’t know how to respond to the kids’ questions.

Before we reveal our source for answers, we first want to say - don’t sweat it when it happens. We’ve all been there. Maybe you don’t know the answer, maybe you don’t think this is the right age to dive into it, or maybe now is just not the time. Whatever the reason, we don’t really want to brush our kids off. We still want to positively reinforce the curiosity button in our kids. So what to do? The answer is simple. Ask a question.

Look no further than 400 BC when our favorite Greek philosopher, Socrates, used his “method” to get to the foundations of his students’ views. Through asking continual questions, the Socratic Method is a tool used to engage discussion, while presenting probing questions to get at the heart of the matter. Socrates developed this process to develop critical thinking skills and enable students to approach concepts with authentic curiosity. The Socratic Method helps the student understand the concept and, as importantly, understand themselves through the process. Try your best to ask open-ended questions and avoid yes/no questions.

Don’t be intimidated by the method; it’s not just for legendary Greek philosophers or fancy law professors.* We find that an “elementary” version of the Socratic Method is plenty appropriate to develop young minds . . . and to get ourselves out of an inquisitive bind! Through this method, we’ve also found that little minds pose questions in their developing linguistic framework which we then process in our own “grown up” framework . . . only to later realize we’ve misunderstood what they’re actually seeking out!

In addition to a developmental exercise, this is a fun way to learn about your kiddie – her internal chatter and external influences (friends, teachers, screen time). For example:

  • Question: “Where was I before I got into your belly?” Response: “I love that question! What are your memories from that time before you were in my belly?”

  • Question: “Who made bad guys?” Response: “Oh, good question… Did you see or hear something to make you wonder? How did that make you feel?”

  • Question: “What does [fill in choice phrase] mean?” Response: “Oh, interesting… Where did you hear about those words? Why did [friend] want to talk about that?”

  • Question: “How do babies come out of your belly?” Response: “How do you think the baby comes out? How do you think the baby feels when the baby comes out?”

  • Question: “When do the numbers end?” Response: “Can we research that together? How do you think we should begin?”

  • Question: “Why did the dinosaurs have to die?” Response: “Why do you think so? How does that make you feel?”

Whatever the questions may be, this inquisitive phase of childhood is truly incredible – one that we want to embrace and develop, no matter how big or awkward the questions get. It’s also a quality that we hope stays with them into the ‘tweens, teens, and adulthood. Life is too precious and wondrous to stop asking questions. Life is an experiment, and we are happy to be doing it here with you!

There are no questions too big or too awkward for the Socrates in you. Will you tell us how the conversation goes? Brownie points for super strange! Hopefully you both will learn something informative, fun, or fascinating about yourselves and each other. It might just lead you to ask another question...

*The Socratic Method

Socrates (470-399 BC) was a Greek philosopher who sought to get to the foundations of his students' and colleagues' views by asking continual questions until a contradiction was exposed, thus proving the fallacy of the initial assumption. This became known as the Socratic Method, and may be Socrates' most enduring contribution to philosophy.

Our students discover quickly that the Socratic Method is a tool and a good one at that used to engage a large group of students in a discussion, while using probing questions to get at the heart of the subject matter. The Socratic Method is not used at UChicago to intimidate, nor to "break down" new law students, but instead for the very reason Socrates developed it: to develop critical thinking skills in students and enable them to approach the law as intellectuals.

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