What to Say

When You Don’t Know

The 3Fs Technique
Dr. Nermeen Dashoush
Clinical Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education
and Chief Curriculum Officer for MarcoPolo World School

How curious are children? Recent studies have quantified that answer, showing that young children ask around 100 questions per hour. So what do you do when your child asks you something you don’t know? Don’t fret. When you are next faced with a question you don’t have the answer to, just remember the 3Fs.

1. Fess Up

Not only is it ok that you don’t know, it’s actually beneficial for your child to hear that from you. You might want your child to look up to you because you are knowledgeable, but this is also an opportunity for them to admire you as a learner. When your child asks you a question that you don’t have the answer to, just admit that and say, “I actually don’t know.” This teaches your child that nobody is omniscient, and shows them a positive way to react next time they don’t know something. Your child might even be surprised that there are things you don’t know, and this could trigger a meaningful conversation about how everybody is still learning.

In MarcoPolo World School, characters in the videos act as positive role models, casually admitting when they don’t know something, and actually enjoying when information is new!

2. Find Out

One of the best things about not knowing is having the opportunity to find out. From a very young age, children learn that they can gain information by asking the adults around them. What happens when the adult doesn’t know? When you go on a quest to learn with your child, you are not only teaching them the answer to their question, you are also modeling ways for them to find answers on their own. You are showing your child that they can seek knowledge by reading a book, watching a video, and observing the world around them.

The characters in MarcoPolo World School are constantly posing questions. Sometimes the narrator answers these questions, and sometimes they encourage the characters to rely on their senses to gain information first-hand.

3. Flip it Around

Sometimes the best answer to, “Why do toucans have colorful beaks?” can be “Why do YOU think toucans have colorful beaks?” Whether you know the answer or not, this is a very powerful tool to use when speaking with your child. It allows your child to think about their question, and gives you insights on what they already know and why they posed the question. A child who asks about the colors of the toucan’s beak might be wondering how such a colorful beak might interfere with the animal’s ability to hide. When the question is flipped around, and they are asked to consider the answer, the child learns to hypothesize and draw on prior knowledge. Whether the child is right or wrong, the discussion can continue as they ponder. Don’t forget to ponder with them!

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