Parents eagerly await the dismissal from school to find out how their children’s day went. They ask the question, “Did you learn anything new today?” and the response is a discouraging, “No.”
Many times our children come home exhausted. They have grown accustomed to carefree days and are suddenly thrown into a structured day that is tiring. Hitting them with questions as soon as they get picked up or come home doesn’t give them a chance to breathe. Parents are more likely to get more details after the children have had a chance to get a snack and unwind.
Asking closed questions will also elicit short one word answers such as, “I don’t know.” “I can’t remember.” and “Nothing.” There are a few changes parents can make to help them learn more about their children’s day.
- Before school parents can say, “I’ll be looking forward to hearing about the new things you learn today, the friends you saw or new ones you made, and about how you feel about your teacher.” This prepares them to be paying attention to their day in another way.
- If children have a hard time remembering what happened, which is very common, guiding them to review their day by taking a mind trip back to the beginning of the day. When training my students to review the day, I asked them to close their eyes and think about what it felt like standing outside the door just before I greeted them. They were asked to raise their hand when they could see that in their mind’s eye. It took a few children a little while to tap into that memory hack. Once they reviewed their day through visualization, they had more to share with their parents. (On a side note, this same strategy helped them answer questions on tests and remember steps to math problems done on the board. They could even visualize what words were on the page of a textbook).
- Asking open ended questions encourages children to think more specifically about their day. “How was your day?” is too broad a topic. Helping them narrow the topic will promote better recall of what happened.
Examples of Open-Ended Questions
Choosing a few of the questions below will open dialogue. Asking too many questions will close communication. Think about what you want to learn about their day and make sure it is asked in the open-ended model.
- How did it feel walking into school today? Share your own experience with your first day of school. “I remember the first day of third grade. I was so nervous because kids kept telling me how mean the teacher was, but after the first three minutes I realized they were wrong. I also had no friends in my class. One girl wrote on the bottom of her shoe, “Will you be my friend?” and that made me feel so much better. We are still friends today.”
- What did the teacher share about him/herself today?
- What supplies did they give you?
- Were you able to choose your seat or did the teacher assign you a seat? Are you happy where you are sitting? (If the child is unhappy with the seat choice, this can open up a dialogue about how to ask for a seat change. If children know they learn better in the front of the room, they need to share that with the teacher. If they need to stand, this is important information for the teacher).
- What was recess like? Did they have games you like to play?
- Who were the new children in your class? Did you welcome them?
- What was the hardest part of your day? Follow-up with “What happened?”
- What was your favorite part of the day? Follow-up with “What happened?”
- How was your lunch? Who did you sit with or did you sit alone?
- Which subject do you think you will enjoy the most? What about it makes you say that?
- What kind of homework was assigned? Do you feel confident about doing it? Did you ask questions about items that were not clear?
- Did you pack enough lunch?
- What are you looking forward to tomorrow at school?
Your children will let you know when to stop asking questions. If we ask too many, it will feel like they are being interrogated. Choose a couple from the list and check the response. Trust your instincts and avoid closed questions.
Reason for “No” Responses:1
Neuroscience explains why children will have nothing to share about their day. Asking children how their day went is like randomly being called upon in class to answer a question. Thinking back to my school days, my mind would go completely blank if I was called upon, even if I knew the answer. Without a chance to think about it, they are sent straight into the stress response. As they tense up, because they can’t think of a quick answer, their body prepares for fight or flight. The blood is drained from the prefrontal cortex where the answer can be found, and directed to the legs for a quick get-away. Until they relax and the blood flow is redirected, they will not have any answer besides, “No,” “Nothing,” “I don’t know,” or “I can’t remember.” Given a little time to relax and mentally review their day will result in more informative answers.
Importance of Asking Open-ended Questions
Using open-ended questions will result in more meaningful conversations with our children about their school day. These are questions that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” response. They require children to think critically and express themselves in a more detailed manner. By asking open-ended questions, we can encourage our children to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences from their school day. By asking about their least favorite subjects or activities, we can identify areas where they may need additional support or encouragement. This, in turn, helps them develop their communication skills and feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings with us.
In addition to fostering communication and gaining insights, asking open-ended questions also promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills. By asking about any challenges or difficulties they faced during their school day, we encourage our children to reflect on their experiences and find solutions. Similarly, questions about any new things they learned or discovered at school can help them consolidate their knowledge. We remember more of what we learned when we share it with others.
Helpful Suggestion for Teachers
Because the parents of my students were paying a great deal for their children to attend our school, I felt it important that they review the events of the day as a closing activity. I gave them a minute to relax and close their eyes. They were asked if they could see themselves standing in line outside the room. Some children need a little time to tap into the visualization method, but once they were asked to see themselves riding their bike or skateboard down the street, they realized they could visualize. They were asked what we did when we came into the room? I asked them to look at the white board at the front of the room and see what was written on it? They were asked what else they saw in their mind’s eye? It was very interesting what they recalled. They were prepared for the questions their parents would ask them once they got in the car. As I stated earlier, strategy also is valuable when taking tests.
What interesting and unusual things have your children said about their school day?
My youngest came home from the first day of kindergarten very disappointed. “Today was a waste. They didn’t teach me to read!” As a teacher, I didn’t want my girls to be bored in class, so I never attempted teaching them phonics. She was really eager to learn how to read. Though she gleaned a great deal of knowledge by being read to daily, she still felt she would come home the first day ready to read the books her third grade sister was reading.
I’d love to hear your stories. Please add them in the comment box below.