Dear Inquisitive Parent,
I am writing this letter to assure you that your child does learn "something" in school each day; they may even learn more than one thing! "Why is she writing this," you ask? Well, as a parent and an educator, I know I, and likely many of you, have made the mistake of asking a child what he did in school on a given day. Yes, I called it a mistake. While teachers often employ the use of open-ended questions in the classroom in order to elicit varied and creative responses, asking a student what they learned in school leads some parents to receive the habitual, vague, substance-lacking response, "Nothing." After all, a routine question likely receives a routine response, just as a thoughtful question likely receives a thoughtful response. You are interested in your child's education and school day, but how are you supposed to have a conversation when you're not even sure she can remember anything they studied? You trick her into telling you, that's how!
In all seriousness, consider yourself, your close friends, or spouse, and how you feel at the end of a full day of work. Some of us want to discuss our day, while others of us would rather switch our focus to family game night or dinner. Students may be similar in that regard; they may rather move on to doing or discussing their upcoming game, or what they plan to pack for a sleepover at a friend's house, rather than their activities at school. Although this is by no means an exhaustive list of ways to engage your child in conversation, you can demonstrate interest and approachability with directed questions such as the following.
- What specials classes did you have today? Did anyone ask any really good questions?
- What topic did you study in __________ class today? Is that something you'd like to study more?
- What was the most challenging thing you had to do/learn today?
- Were you able to help any of your friends with any class activities/work today?
- Did you do any group/partner work today? Who was in your group? How well did the group work together?
- Wow, your backpack looks heavy! What homework or projects do you have to work on tonight?
- Wow, your backpack looks nearly empty! How did you get so lucky?
Special Activity/Project/Assignment-based questions
- I saw on your teacher's website that ___________, can you tell me more about that? (ex. I saw on Mrs. Bennati's website that you have adopted a musher for the Iditarod. Can you tell me more about why your class did that?)
- I saw pictures of ____________________ on (teacher's website, school facebook/instagram, etc). What were you learning about during that activity? (ex. I saw pictures of you holding a large 3-D dodecahedron? What were you learning about during that activity?)
- I'm really excited to see your (science, social studies, computer animation, etc.) assignment/project when it is completed. How is that coming along?
- What made you laugh today?
- Did the teacher have you all out of your seats a lot today? What activities did you do while you were out of your seats?
- What thoughts or ideas did you contribute to your class today?
Asking more directed questions can help you learn more about your child's day, and possibly even gain information you want without your student feeling interrogated with questions such as, "Do you have math homework? How much do you have to do? Did you pay attention in class today?" Remember to keep it casual, convey your interest in a thoughtful way, and be attentive to the conversations that follow.