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October 12, 2021 8:45 AM   Subscribe

My 2.5 year old twins ask "why?" and "how?" about everything in the world, mostly about many things I should know but either never learned or have forgotten. I seek book recommendations to help.

Why is it raining? Why is there weather? Why is there a bug? How does this on button work? Why does this need new batteries? Etc etc etc etc!

I'm looking for a sciencey explanation book that has simple and comprehensible answers to typical questions toddlers/preschoolers may have about the world. I had to look up how weather works!

The book can either be something I can read with my why-askers, or something I can reference and then use to explain to them. I own "The Way Things Work" from when I was a (much older) kid and I think I want something with answers that are a bit simpler.
posted by millipede to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
There are some good Usborne books with page after page of question-and-answer snippets. My 3-year-old likes "Look Inside Your Body".
posted by Phssthpok at 9:04 AM on October 12

The DK science books have been go-to's around here for some time. I'm also pleased to see that the Little Golden Guides are apparently still in print, and I remember devouring them as a kid.

Since you mentioned weather - I can't say enough great things about The Cloudspotter's Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. The Handy Weather Answer Book has also been a good resource.
posted by jquinby at 9:04 AM on October 12 [3 favorites]

This is going way, way back, but there are great Peanuts/Charlie Brown books like this--see here for Amazon but they're cheaper on eBay. I particularly remember the one about the body, which I read at exactly age 3 (I think I got it for that birthday).
posted by 8603 at 9:10 AM on October 12 [4 favorites]

Edit: looks like they have a 1990 reprint!
posted by 8603 at 9:16 AM on October 12

+1 to DK books. Richard Scarry doesn't exactly explain science, but his book are very satisfying to kids in the "why" stage.

Side note: when I was totally exhausted with "why," I came up with a pretty cool rule (IMHO) - I said: "you can ask more questions, but they have to start with a word other than why. Who, what, where, when, etc." Sometimes our kids would get a little passive and just keep saying "why, why, why'" without really listening or processing the answer -- requiring a different type of question got them more active/involved with follow-up questions, etc.
posted by Mid at 9:20 AM on October 12 [13 favorites]

This is going way, way back, but there are great Peanuts/Charlie Brown books like this--see here for Amazon but they're cheaper on eBay. I particularly remember the one about the body, which I read at exactly age 3 (I think I got it for that birthday).

I don't know about the 1990s re-print, but I have the originals and I still have them. They are out of date, which means they are wrong in places (e.g. the dinosaur stuff is all known to be wrong at this point) and kind of sketchy in that way everything produced in that time period is sketchy (e.g. the page on "Eskimos"). Do not recommend.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:24 AM on October 12 [3 favorites]

+1 to Richard Scarry - when I was a "why" kid I looked and looked and looked at those cutaway pictures in his books of a water mill or a power station for hours at a time - they're very detailed in a comforting kind of way, without overloading on words
posted by rd45 at 9:27 AM on October 12 [3 favorites]

+1 to Richard Scarry for younger toddlers. The explanations aren't perfect or thorough but they're not wrong, and they're age appropriate.

FYI with my niblings their parents and I took the tack of replying to "Why is X" with "Well, I am not sure. Why do YOU think X is?" First off, it buys you time, but it also helps the kiddo to practice independent theorizing, AND it shuts down the sort of mindless "why why why" where the kid isn't really interested in answers but just wants to have a conversation.

As they got older and their parents were a little less frazzled, they also started responding with things like, "why don't we do/find an experiment to learn how." Now my 5-year-old nibling perpetually has 2-3 "experiments" going at any given time.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:29 AM on October 12 [12 favorites]

Vermont Public Radio does a podcast called ... But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids.
posted by Hey, Zeus! at 9:52 AM on October 12 [2 favorites]

Maybe check out Hyena Butter: Weird & Informative (Just Like Us!) - YouTube. Watch, then check out their channel, there's a previous MinuteEarth Explains: How Did Whales Get So Big? | Book Trailer - YouTube book announcement, and an actual chapter reading! (A book with the answer) - YouTube. MinuteEarth and MinutePhysics are nice short and simple and cool. Now they made a book.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:29 AM on October 12

Why is it raining?

Look... I did try to explain cold-n-dry & hot-n-humid air masses moving due to differences in air pressure and eventually meeting and causing condensation and rain... and... well.... it's still a bit abstract for a 3 yo. So try something else maybe ;)
posted by WaterAndPixels at 12:46 PM on October 12 [2 favorites]

I have read it's actually best if you don't answer these types of questions. Ask, "how / why do you think it works that way?" and then engage with them on it. Have them draw a picture of how they think it works, ask how they could test it or figure it out, etc. Do an experiment about it.

You can look it up on wikipedia at some point to find the "right" answers too, but encouraging creative and critical thinking first is good. (This is obviously something you can do more as they get older).
posted by cape at 1:13 PM on October 12 [2 favorites]

(I'm not saying never answer a question or that the idea to read informative books is the wrong one, just another approach you can use sometimes).
posted by cape at 1:14 PM on October 12

2½ years is too young for this solution but once they start reading, there's all kinds of science/trivia books you can give them. Or start reading to them, now. Big Secrets or The Straight Dope are geared to adults but some of these are for kids:
posted by Rash at 2:21 PM on October 12

When you have no freaking idea, no time, or no patience, it's perfectly ok to say "I'm not sure of the answer to that, but we can look it up later/tomorrow/when we get home/etc" and then, if they remember later, look it up. If they don't, count your stars. But really... only answer the real ones. Not the why why why why why. Because those, they do not to learn, but to annoy.

Sometimes, a trick that will work to determine the difference is like mentioned above, and ask how they think it works. Another is to suggest completely ridiculous reasons/answers. That usually gets them to tell you how they think it works, or at least redirect the whys.

As they get older, don't be surprised if this turns into a list of things to look up later. It did with mine. Especially since they've grown up with internet, and answers to almost anything being actually findable, by us at home, compared to my childhood in the 70s/80s, it's really enhanced their ability and willingness to research answers. (Except, I've learned, it also turns into, if they have no idea where to START the task, they ask Mom.)

And listen to them, and interact with them, and make sure they trust you to explain an awful lot of things just as you're going along even when you don't ask. I might've found the trick to avoiding the whys... my 3-next-month granddaughter still hasn't hit the annoying-why stage, despite a very high vocabulary and comprehension level. It's been puzzling me as to when we'll reach it, but I'm starting to think we skipped it, due to just that reason. WIth only one of her (instead of my four close-in-age kiddos), it's been incredibly easy to just communicate constantly. So unless she's tired, it's more like talking to an intelligent 7-year-old.
posted by stormyteal at 6:39 PM on October 12

As cape points out, most of this isn't about learning things. It's about practicing conversation. "Why" is a good question that allows the asker to have a certain degree of certainty that the lister will respond in a way that leads to more talking.

"Why do you ask that?" "What do you think?" "Why would you like to know?" are all perfectly reasonable responses, because they respond to the invitation to have a chat in a way that is similarly engaging without making you do a load of research. And "I'm not sure, maybe we should look it up later" is an educational response in its own right. It demonstrates that you don't have all the answers, and that's okay, and there's ways to find out even things you don't know.

As far as resources go, we do very well at our house with the DK books mentioned above, especially for my younger child. They range from very simple picture books (we have a board book from DK called Opposites that's just a word a page) to quite detailed, well researched encyclopedias that my older child really thrives on.
posted by Jilder at 4:26 AM on October 13 [1 favorite]

As a couple of previous posters said, your kids are learning to be conversationalists. When they're saying why it's in response to something you said, I read that they're really saying, that's fascinating / interesting! Tell me more! They aren't looking for more a lot more info. When my daughter was that age, I kept answers really short and sometimes I would say, yes, I think that's neat/cool/interesting too.

Why is it raining?
Because it rains every now and then.
There's a lot of moisture in the air
I'm disappointed that we can't go on the swings right now too
The rain is making them wet and wet pants are uncomfortable and cold
Yes, wet pants are uncomfortable. Do you think the rain will stop by tomorrow? Let's go then.

Patience, please. They're just learning to talk/interact with you instead of talk at you.
posted by dlwr300 at 10:27 PM on October 13

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