Explaining a Traffic Light to a 3 Year Old

My daughter, D, has been in the “question-asking” phase for several months now. She is very inquisitive and wants to know about everything she sees, experiences, smells, feels, etc. The first few questions are typically simple, but then she continues with “follow-up” questions that usually end up stumping me. Here is an example:

D – “Why we stopping?”

Me – “Because the light is red.”

D – “Why the light is red?”

Me – “Because the red light tells us to stop.”

D – “Why?”

Me – “So that everybody gets a turn to go and doesn’t get hurt.”

D – “Why?”

Me – “Well…you know how we have to stop at a stop sign. That is called a traffic light. The red light tells us to stop. We have to wait until it turns green, and then we can go.”

D – “Why it’s called that?”

Me – “Because it has lights and it helps with traffic…so the name of it is a traffic light.”

D – “Why that the name?

Me – “Oh look! It’s green! Now we can go! Yay!”

D – “Why it’s green?

Me – “Because it’s our turn.”

D – “Why it’s our turn?”

Me – “Because the light turned green.”

D – “Why?”

Me – “Look!!! A bus!!! Wow! Isn’t that a cool bus?”

This type of interaction has been going on for months. Some days, it cracks me up. Other days, I find it interesting, and I’m curious to see how long the conversation can go. Other days, it gets old quick. We live in an area with lots of traffic lights, and we are in the car a good bit so I love to have these conversations with her.

Now that I know that she knows the basics of traffic lights, I turn the questions on her so that she can practice answering questions. Some call this “raising the bar.” This causes her to be a more active participant in the conversation. Instead of passively asking questions that she already knows the answers to, she is now listening and answering questions with little fear for getting it wrong and building her confidence. Here’s an example:

D – “Why we not going?”

Me – “What color is the light?”

D – “Red.”

Me – “Can I go on red?”

D – “No.”

Me – “What color do I need to wait for?”

D – “Green.”

Me – “That’s right.”

D – “It’s green now! Mommy, go!”

Me – “That’s right. Thank you for helping Mommy.”

One day, I was trying to make a left hand turn at a traffic light. After sitting for a while, I hear:

D – “Why we not going?”

M – “Do you see all these cars going the other way? I have to wait until they move so that I can turn.”

D – “But the light is green.”

M – “Ummm….yeah (laughing). You are right, but this is different….” And the conversation continues.

Her questions have led to discussions about safety, rules/laws, punishment for breaking rules/laws, locations/prepositions (red is on the top, green is at the bottom, yellow is in the middle, we have to drive across traffic, etc.), counting games (how many traffic signs will go through from our house to school), etc. And while this is going on, my 1 ½ year old is absorbing it all like a little sponge. Before long, she’ll be the one asking the questions!

Have you had any funny and/or interesting talks in the car with your child/children? I’d love to hear them. Feel free to share in the comment section.

Have a great day!

Melissa 🙂