By simply listening, a mother helps her child learn. As parents, we’re eager to contribute to our children’s education. But at one time or another, we all feel frustrated by our inability to teach or explain something. I’ve often felt these frustrations were misguided. According to research with 4- and 5-year-olds conducted by Bethany Rittle-Johnson, the good news is that we don’t have to have all the answers. Sometimes just listening is the most helpful course of action.

In the research, children were asked to explain the solution to a problem to their moms, to themselves or to simply repeat the answer out loud. The results demonstrated that explaining the answer to their moms improved the children’s ability to solve both similar and more difficult problems over time.

By simply listening, mothers significantly affected their children’s understanding and retention of the problem and solution.

Of course, parents know that asking children about their lessons or school can result in the somewhat useless exchange: “How was school today?” “Fine.” “How were your lessons?” “OK.” The art of getting a child to engage in a topic has to do with timing, a probing question, and keen listening skills.

Asking your children to share the most interesting thing they learned that day is a better question that requires more than a one-word answer. As a parent, the take-away lesson from this study is that I should stop feeling like I have to know and provide all the answers and instead create situations that require my children to explain their knowledge or reasoning to me and then be a good listener.

So the next time your children ask you a question, consider using it as an opportunity to start a discussion rather than just an obligation to serve up an answer. Sometimes the most educational approach is to answer a question with a question. As a parent eager to help your children, putting this into practice can sometimes be difficult. But having them think through the problem and explain their reasoning will provide more benefit in the long run than simply telling them the answer.

This approach enables you to assist your children with their schoolwork even when you do not know the answer yourself. “Your kids ask questions all the time that you don’t know the answers to, and this suggests that it’s OK if you don’t.” Rittle-Johnson said. “If you just say, ‘What do you think the answer is?’ you can help kids learn.”

Time4Learning offers a great way for preschool to 12th grade kids to learn online using an interactive program for language arts, math, science and social studies. It is a learning program that enables children to digest and understand information at their own pace. As a parent you can participate and encourage your children to explain the new concepts that are introduced progressively and mastered through practice using the Time4Learning curriculum. Want to know more? See our screenshots to get a better idea of what some of the lessons cover or better yet, visit the scope and sequence to see all of the lesson plans by grade and subject.