Top 10 ORB3 Phrases to Build Question-Asking Skills in Infants and Toddlers

Being able to ask questions is a crucial school readiness skill.  Interestingly, one of the first language skills that an infant develops is the ability to detect changes in intonation, or how a voice changes to express meaning beyond what the words are saying.  Long before an infant can understand what words mean, he can understand that a voice is happy, angry, sad, making a statement or questioning.  Oddly, one of the last language skills to develop in the hierarchy of motor control for the child’s own speech will be his ability to control his voice to express meaning.  Into the second and third years of life, a child will continue to have difficulty using intonation to ask questions appropriately, understanding the difference between asking and telling someone something, controlling his volume (e.g., inside versus outside voice, shouting when he is upset about something, etc.).  

However, being able to ask questions, thereby demonstrating an inquisitive mind, a curious nature and a thirst for information, is a crucial school readiness skill.  When a child asks questions, he naturally builds his own speech and language and social skills.  Every question he asks is an opportunity to hear a verbal response from a listener, which gives him critical school readiness information about the sounds, vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure of his language.  It allows him to be an active learner and seeker of knowledge.  It guides him to becoming his own self-advocate, as he will need to ask “Can you help me?” and “What does this mean?” countless times in his school experience to be successful.

Many of us already know the saying “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” This fact stems from our understanding and use of intonation.  By asking simple questions throughout a child’s development, you are setting him off on a course of success for being careful about how he says what he says.

The following Top 10 are taken from Operation Ready By 3 (ORB3) Infant-Toddler Curriculum.  The activities are fun ways to encourage control of intonation and build question-asking skills in 0-36 month old children.  0-12 month old children will respond to the questions verbally, but they will be listening intently and learning, and can respond with body movements (e.g., kicking legs, head shake/nod, etc.) or objects (e.g., giving you the toy that you are talking about).  12-24 month old children will give brief, but accurate responses to your questions. 24-36 month old children will give an essentially complete and accurate response.  Throughout the 0-36 month age span, infants and toddlers will use solid eye contact as you ask the questions as well as look as though they are thoroughly interested in what you are saying and want the interaction to continue.

1)  Where are you? (while playing peek-a-boo or hide-and-seek, when you have left the room and the child remains, etc.)

2)  Who is it? (when someone knocks on the front door, while playing a knock-on-the-door game in the child’s room, while playing with puppets who hide and “knock” on a door, etc.)

3)  Why do you think? (for use with an older child after he asks “Why?”)

4)  What do you think it is/does? (for use with an older after he asks “What is this?” or “What does this do?”)

5)  What do you see/hear/feel/smell? (while taking a walk outside, while eating a meal, while riding in the car, while petting animals, etc.)

6)  How does it taste/How is it? (while eating a new food, while eating favorite foods, etc.)

7)  Can you please help me? (when you want to involve the child in a task, when you “pretend” that you can’t do it without him, etc.)

8)  How big is _____? (filling in the word “Baby” or the child’s name) (for an infant follow your question with “So big!” while raising your arms up in the air;  for an older child, follow your question with “This big” or take the time to measure him with a yardstick or measuring tape)

9)  What is this? (whenever you discover something new on a nature walk or out in the community, when you discover a big mess in the play area/kitchen, etc.)

10)  What time is it? (when you need to be somewhere, when you are out in the community) *Take the time to ask people in the community what time it is, even if you have a watch or know the time.  It’s a great way to demonstrate question-asking as well as social skills!)


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