How to Talk To Your Child About School

As a parent, you may find yourself in this boat: How was school today? Fine. What did you do? Played on the playground. What are you learning about? I don’t know. 

Posted: October 12, 2022

Below is an excerpt from September’s “Letter from the Director” written by Meg Fitzgerald, our Director of Early Childhood.

As a parent, you may find yourself in this boat: How was school today? Fine. What did you do? Played on the playground. What are you learning about? I don’t know. 

These minimal, at times, pulling teeth-like answers are not because your child does not have a recollection of the events of their day. Developmentally, by the time they are three, children have an individual internal representation of experience, separate from the one they co-construct with a parent. So they are now able to contribute pieces to a story that we as parents do not know about. However, the school day is so vast, that synthesizing it and pulling out memorable experiences and anecdotes in response to a broad question is simply too big of a mountain to climb. We simply need to ask the right questions. 

Understand Your Child’s Daily Schedule

First, start by having an understanding of your child’s daily schedule using the information you’ve already gathered from school events like curriculum night, or resources from your child’s teachers like weekly website updates. Three to five-year-old children often can’t remember what exactly they were doing nine hours ago, or what they ate for lunch. But they remember their experiences and how they felt, particularly when given specific prompts that include the structure of their day. 

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Ask Specific Questions

Next, be specific. General, broader questions provide uncertainty for how a child should answer. More specific questions prompt them to give you details. 

  • What games did you play in P.E. today? Did you play with a partner or do exercises on your own?

  • Last week I saw you were making letters with playdough during literacy centers. Did you do that again today or was there a new material out for literacy?

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Sometimes questions can feel too immense for young children. Give them an opening to share about their day simply by reminding them, I love hearing about your day. 

This image from Big Life Journal is a helpful guide with question prompts:

Expect Negativity 

No doubt, there will be times when the hardest parts of their day are what your child wants to bring home to you. This is to be expected. Home is a safe space, and being in the presence of trustworthy caregivers often allows sadness or hurts to bubble up.

Flip The Narrative

First Grade Teachers Ms. Camacho and Ms. Crenshaw recently wrote a lovely blog on developing friendships in first grade and they touch on this very important reminder that all of us as parents need:

Just like us adults, the negative parts of a child’s day can outweigh the positive, even if it only impacted a small portion of their day. As the consistent adults in a child’s life, our responses can shape their thinking. Due to our care, concern, and desire to make our children happy, it can be tempting to ask numerous follow-up questions regarding a sad or hard time so that we can help fix it or get to the bottom of it. This can give the impression that their negative experiences result in more concern and attention from adults. After you validate their emotions, try flipping the narrative to focus on how your child responded. You might ask:

  • What did you do when that happened?

  • How do you think someone else would feel if you did that to them?

  • Did you help the problem get smaller, or did you make the problem bigger?

  • What could you do to make the problem smaller next time?

Another example is when your child tells you about something they did to help the classroom, like pushing in all the chairs or sweeping up a mess after lunch. Instead of saying, that’s nice, oh wow, or good job, try:

  • How do you think that made your teachers and classmates feel?

  • That sounds like a lot of work! Was it as challenging as it sounds?

  • Why did you decide to do that work?

  • Wow, that sounds helpful! What other ways do you help make your classroom a better place?

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Incorporate Conversations into Daily Routine  

We’ll never know everything that occurs when our children are away from us. Instead, we can give them the tools and opportunities to share windows into their day. Some of the unspoken moments will soon become shared with other trustworthy peers and adults, as our children are growing in their relationships and identities, building their own stories.

As your family’s daily routine starts to find consistency, just like ours is at school, your child(ren) may start talking about their days on a more consistent schedule, as well. That may be during snuggles at bedtime, or on the car ride home when your child has a quiet moment to reflect on all that’s happened.

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