Why Children need to know that there is often more than one Answer to a Question

While most math teachers and students would agree that 2 + 2 = 4, there are many other subjects, both in and out of the classroom, for which there is no one right answer. Parents and teachers can help children learn to expand their perspective, consider viewpoints held by others, and develop improved social skills by learning to consider a wider range of possible solutions, approaches and ways of looking at things, rather than searching for and stopping at a single right answer.

Opposing conclusions

Even in objective subjects, such as science, opposing conclusions can be reached using identical information. As these situations arise, teachers can use them as teachable moments, encouraging students to learn from each other by sharing their thought processes and improving their critical thinking skills. Students who only seek out “right” answers miss out on widening their perspective, gaining new problem-solving skills and working with others more constructively.

Prescriptive v. descriptive assignments

Lesson plans can be developed as prescriptive or descriptive. Prescriptive assignments lay out specific steps to reach a particular conclusion. Descriptive assignments are more investigative, encouraging students to explore all the possible approaches and outcomes. Not only does this method help students find the best learning method for themselves, they also benefit by being exposed to other modes of thought.

Promote creative problem solving

Many children will not risk failure. This means they do not contribute to classroom discussions, they don’t ask for help when they need it and they tend to fall behind. Teaching children that there can be more than one right answer frees this silent population from their fear of shame and encourages everyone to offer their views and opinions. When the demand for one right answer is eliminated, children are more likely to develop creative problem solving skills that will be useful throughout their lives.

The goal of parenting and education is to provide children with knowledge, social skills, the ability to think critically and tools that will help them solve problems. Children who have been taught to understand that there are many ways to address a situation, idea or task, and that people will, at times, disagree with them, are far more likely to develop valuable life skills that will serve them throughout adulthood. While rote memorization and single-right-answer situations do occur, it is the ability to consider the many sides of an issue, evaluating multiple possibilities and being able to justify their decision, leading to academic, professional and personal success.