As part of WBEZ’s “Kids Ask” series, we are talking with kids, parents and experts about the tough questions asked by young children that adults don’t always know how to answer. We then explore the answers, and sometimes the unknown, together.
Six-year-old Zahlia Bess likes drawing pictures of her life in a little notebook. When she’s not sketching portraits of her new baby brother, she freely twirls around her Schaumburg backyard.
During dinner, Zahlia eats slowly, at least according to her father Delante Bess, but that offers time for precocious Zahlia to ask lots of questions. One evening, Zahlia had some big curiosities.
“Who made the universe? Who made the planets? Who made God,” the rising first grader with soft brown curls asked.
In addition to these celestial questions, Zahlia also wondered how parents get hair on newborn babies, a curiosity that stems from the thick head of dark hair on her baby brother.
Her parents got her a special notebook and encouraged her to write down all her questions.
For the question about who created the universe, Zahlia’s mom Gabriela Bess told her there were two theories: the Big Bang Theory and God. But Bess wasn’t sure she was explaining the scientific theory in a way a child could follow.
“The challenge sometimes is saying that we think we know something, and then we try to explain it,” she said, before wondering out loud: “Do I really know it?”
Zahlia’s parents say if they explain something to their six-year-old, and she isn’t able to repeat it back, then they probably didn’t do a great job.
That’s why they’ve encouraged Zahlia to start writing down all of her questions in a notebook so they can explore and revisit their discussions. They know no one has the exact answer to some questions. But they want Zahlia to stay curious and to feel free, as a girl, that she can always ask.
Expert weighs in
Geza Gyuk, the director of astronomy at the Adler Planetarium, says that even astronomers don’t have all the answers about the universe.
“It’s really easy to ask a question that no one knows the answer to, and that’s one of the wonderful, incredible things,” he said. “It’s sort of a process of being OK to admit one doesn’t know.”
When it comes to how the universe came to be, he says scientists don’t know what happened at the very beginning, but they do know what happened immediately after that moment.
He said the universe started at an extremely hot and dense point and then began to expand incredibly fast. Those hot materials began to cool off and gravity started to put things together, eventually forming galaxies, planets and stars.
He says in science they usually focus on answering the how, rather than the who or why. But these are questions that are always worth exploring.
“It’s OK to say, I don’t know,” he said. “I tell kids, ‘that’s fantastic. I’m really glad that you’re asking these sorts of questions.’”
He says that childlike curiosity is the root of progress.
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