I spent nearly 20 years teaching in schools, so I've worked with hundreds of students and parents. During those two decades, I often had parents reach out to me because they were struggling to learn details about their children's school day. "How do I get him or her to open up?" they'd ask.
Now, thanks to what I learned as a teacher, I have a child who is excited to discuss her school day. I feel comfortable that my wife and I have created a foundation of transparency that will benefit my daughter even as she reaches the tricky teen years. Here's how to gain valuable insight into your child's school life by getting them talking.
Start Early and Often
What do I mean by this? Well, children are starting school earlier and earlier these days. My daughter entered preschool at age 2. There's no reason that these conversations can't start as soon as your child begins his or her academic journey.
Don't just say, "How was your day?" That can be answered in one word. Ask questions that require detail and thought, and show interest on your end. Early on, I would ask my daughter simple yes or no questions to engage her, which I'd follow up with slightly more detailed-oriented questions.
I'd ask about art projects or books read to the class or interaction with classmates. Not only did this help my wife and I discover more about our daughter's day, but it also helped our child learn how to summarise her most memorable moments and gain a level of comfort in discussing what was important to her.
If your child is older, it's not too late. See the next tip.
Do Your Homework
It shouldn't only be your child who does homework. As parents, we need to do some work as well. My daughter's school sends a brief weekly email that shares details about the week. If your child's school does the same, read the summary - you might find out something you didn't know your child was working on. Ask them about that. Learn the names of your child's teachers and classmates and refer to them by name. Take detailed notes at curriculum evenings and at parent-teacher conferences.
I'll even check out the school menu to see what the kids are having for lunch each day. Having this information at your disposal makes it easier to formulate questions for your child.
If your child is beyond primary school, make sure you truly learn about their interests, perhaps by contacting their year advisor. You'd be surprised how many parents I've spoken with who've been surprised to learn about a secret passion of their child.
Upon discovering these interests, do your homework! Read articles or books about the topic, whether it's makeup tutorials or writing music. Bring enthusiasm to your questioning. If you are genuinely interested, they are more likely to open up.
Utilise the Morning
The morning is a great time to check in with your child to hear about what might be coming up during the school day. Consider breakfast or the drive to school a time to learn about what your child might be doing in class. It's also a good time to discuss lunch and healthy eating strategies. Evenings can often be problematic as many parents are making their way home and children are winding down or doing homework.
Set Goals and Affirmations
My daughter and I discuss goals for her to achieve in life and school. Through these goals, we created daily affirmations that we recite on the way to school each day. I remind her to have a great day at school. "Learn a lot. Be respectful and kind. Ask questions. Be bold. Accept challenges. Be Brave. But most importantly, have fun!"
When I pick her up at the end of the school day, I use those affirmations as a way to discuss her school day. What classes did you have today? What did you learn that was new, exciting, and fun? What acts of kindness did you perform? What challenges did you face? How were you brave? What did you do during recess and with whom? Did you give or receive a compliment today? These questions have engaged my daughter in such a positive way. She often comes bounding into my arms to preemptively respond to one of these daily questions.
It's clear she was thinking about what she wanted to share during the day. What it also does is set fair expectations. She is not always going to achieve her goals on a given day, and that is OK. She is going to encounter challenges, and that is ok. You want your child to feel as if she can share the good and the bad and always receive support.
Learning about your child's school day should not be a burden - it should be enjoyable and enlightening. With practice and consistency, you can make it so.