How To Ask How Was School Today?

There was an excellent letter published on the Dec. 9 Herald opinion page by Brittany Berberich.  She is a 3rd grade teacher from South Point Elementary School in East Grand Forks.  She has some wonderful advice for parents of school age children.  Here is the letter:

Brittany Berberich, East Grand Forks:  How to ask, ‘How was school today?’ Published Friday, Dec. 9, 2011 Grand Forks Herald

Here are three tips on how to approach conversations with children about school.

EAST GRAND FORKS — On average, children ages 5-13 spend a third of their waking moments in a classroom. And every day, classrooms are filled with activities to promote learning.

So, why is it that when a parent asks, “What did you learn in school today?” the child so often responds, “Nothing”?

As an elementary educator, I have high hopes of fulfilling the purposes of education through my teaching and interacting with students. Parents — my partners in education — also have great expectations for their children’s educational experiences.

Both parties expect children to learn much more than “nothing” during the course of a school day.

Of course, parents, students and teachers know that learning occurs throughout every part of a child’s day. From an educator’s perspective, I want children to have engaging conversations with their parents about the concepts that are explored at school. Such conversations extend the learning that takes place in the classroom.

Likewise, parents want to know that their child is learning something at school. So, here are three tips on how to approach conversations with children about school.

First, positive interactions in the home promote successful exchanges in social and school settings. The National Institute of Child Health reports that family characteristics correlate to well-being and academic success.

In other words, when families model positive communication, children benefit academically.

And psychologically, too: A study about children’s self-esteem concluded that parents who talk about positive emotions with their children are more likely to have children with higher self-esteem.

To promote these positive discussions, children can be asked positive questions. When children come home, rather than ask the usual “what did you learn today?”, try, “What was the best thing that happened at school today?”

Then, ask them why this positive event occurred. Other positive questions include: Can you show me something you learned today? Did you play with anyone new?

Parents and educators agree that school should be a safe, positive learning environment for all children. Keeping questions positive establishes this safe, comfortable place of learning and growth.

The second way to avoid the “nothing” answer is to pursue open, honest communication with the child’s teacher. As a professional educator who spends 7 hours a day with students, my goal is to promote children’s academic and social success. Parents can fill their question-asking quiver by keeping in contact with the child’s teacher about ways to promote these types of success.

Parents also can ask the teacher for ideas on what questions to ask or concepts to talk about. Most teachers include these ideas in their newsletters.

In addition, be sure to read notes and feedback on the child’s work. Teachers take time to write so parents can help their child improve. Sharing information is essential, and both teachers and parents are responsible for making it happen.

Last but not least, parents tend to ask their children questions that require a yes or no answer. But asking this type of question rarely promotes discussions.

A more effective type of question asks about specific events that happened in the child’s day. As parents, we want to know about the noteworthy things that occur in our child’s life. Asking open-ended questions encourages children to describe their world and how it is seen from their eyes.

Sample open-ended questions include: What piece of advice did an adult at school share with you? What’s one thing that happened today that you hope is different tomorrow? Why?

May these tips encourage positive, open and plentiful conversations between parents and their wonderful children. May they also bring all the noteworthy events of young children’s lives at school to the surface.

And may “nothing” be something that your children say when you ask them, “What do you want to watch on television?”

But that, my friends, is a topic for a different column.

Berberich is a third-grade teacher at South Point Elementary School.