Want to help your child in school? Of course! These 3 after school questions are quick and give you so much insight into your child’s learning.
“How was your day?” I ask my daughter as soon as she climbs in the car.
“Fine,” she replies.
“Can you tell me more about it?”
“No… stop asking me questions.” I can hear the annoyance in her 9-year-old voice.
She doesn’t want to talk. I can’t expect her to answer these questions after a hard day. Maybe I should switch to lighter, fluffier topics that you can hug – like unicorns that jump over rainbows.
Getting your kids to open up to you as soon as they hop in the car is a bit like expecting a mysterious $1000 to get deposited into your bank account.
That’s the miracle we’re expecting.
But so often, we parents tend to avoid the tough questions in favor of ones such as:
- “How kind were you today?”
- “What was your favorite part of lunch?”
- “Who did you play with at recess?”
I know these questions well because I used to ask them… and thought that through them, I was doing all I could to support my daughter.
But I wasn’t, and these questions were taking the focus off what was truly important.
Not her feelings.
Nor her friendships.
Or her likes and dislikes.
But really, the academics.
School’s main purpose is to prepare kids for life with rigor and develop critical thinking skills.
How was I supporting this mission in any way by the questions I asked her?
Questions to ask kids after school
Amanda Ripley, author of the book The Smartest Kids in the World and how they got that way, suggests three questions that we parents can ask that will help them in school.
- How did your day at school go?
- What did you learn?
- What did you like most?
But I’ve tried these and gotten “Nothing”
And that might happen.
It happened to me when I asked my daughter these questions right after school.
The key is not to start the conversation immediately, instead wait until your child has had a chance to decompress and switch out of school mode..
Let’s break these questions down and I’ll show you how I actually get answers out of my kids that go deeper than fine.
How did your day at school go?
“Oh you know… it was fine.”
Ack! That “fine”. Drives me crazy.
Fine is the answer that you give someone when you want them to leave you alone and stop asking pesky questions.
And that is not cool.
That’s why the follow-up questions are key.
If my child answers “fine”, I follow up with:
Tell me something that happened.
At this point, I get one of two responses:
- An intelligible one that actually continues the conversation such as “We had a math test today,” or “Jessica refused to talk to us on the playground” (read more about what to do about friend drama)
- An overblown emotional response such as whining, “I don’t want to talk right now” followed by my child curling up into a ball and burying his or her head into the back of the seat.
The first response is what I’m aiming for.
If the second happens, I know that a lot happened that day and my child needs some time to make sense of it all before she is ready to talk.
I’ll stop questioning and pick it up later that afternoon.
What did you learn?
Oh really? You learned nothing for 6 whole hours at school? I think I learn more than “nothing” watching paint dry,
The fact is that our kids definitely learned something. But that something needs to be drawn out.
Again, this question is all about the follow-up.
- What did you talk about in math?
- What was hard about that for you?
- Have you ever done that before?
- Did you discover anything cool about that?
We did this at dinner the other night with my daughter.
Me: What did you learn today?
Daughter: Nothing really.
Me; (suppressing my natural sarcastic reaction) Well, that sounds pretty boring.
D: It was.
(Ok… this isn’t going anywhere)
Me: What was hard for you today?
D: We had this test about contractions and I didn’t know all of them because Mr. A didn’t teach us them.
(oooh, blaming the teacher. Ok, bring it on darling daughter)
Me: Like what contractions didn’t you know?
D: I don’t know. I can’t remember.
Me: Well, let’s consult Google.
I take out my phone, do a quick search for contractions and find a list.
Me: Was it ‘shouldn’t?’
D: No, I know that one.
Me: Shall + not.
D: Wait, what’s that one? (and I got her… Victory!)
Following that, we talked about contractions and started quizzing her on the ones she didn’t know.
What started as a brick wall of “nothing”, turned into a really interesting conversation about academics.
(My hubby also quizzed her on bizarre contractions I’ve never heard and if you want to see inside that argument, go to my instagram profile and click on the little circle labeled “contractions”.)
What did you like most?
So, school really isn’t about having fun all the time.
It’s main purpose is rigor and challenge, but so many kids get this message wrong.
They think that if they don’t like a task -or if that task is difficult – it is somehow completely evil and not worth their time.
(We adults are like that as well)
According the psychologist Carol Dweck, this is a characteristic of the fixed mindset – the belief that we were born with all the intelligence we will ever possess and if something’s hard it means we’re simply not smart enough.
That’s a pretty stifling mindset to have.
When your child answers “what did you like most?” by responding:
- Free time
That might be their fixed mindset at work – this love of all things easy that require no sort of effort.
What can you do?
- Start driving the conversation more towards asking what was challenging that day. Then,
- Praise her effort in figuring out a complex task, and
- Remark on her persistence by not giving up when it got hard
Eventually, you should see her responses change from admiration of the easy in her day to telling you about challenges she overcame.
By asking your child these 3 questions daily, you are guiding her to reflect on her school day in a way that will:
- Help her remember what she learned
- Think about how she can improve
- Learn when she struggles, you are there to help.
This practice will take a small amount of time but will have a huge payoff.
(Far bigger impact than volunteering your life away at your school’s fall carnival.)
You got this, mama!