Every day after school, it's the same thing. I meet my 5-year-old daughter at the bus, give her a big hug, and ask her how school was. I get the same answer, every single day: "Good." And that's it. No matter how many follow-up questions I ask, I always get stonewalled, and it sucks.
This is the first year I've ever had a child in full-day school, and I'm desperate for information about what she does in the seven hours she's away from me every day. Are her classmates all nice to her? Is she developing any special friendships? Did she eat her lunch or just toss it? Does she feel excited about all she's learning? Overwhelmed? For the much of first half of her kindergarten year, I had no idea. It was time for a plan.
Through personal trial and error, getting advice from friends with older kids, and some good old-fashioned perseverance, I've learned that there are ways to find out how your kid's school day actually was. Although "how was your day?" probably won't get you the intel you want, these strategies just might.
- Instead of asking the generic "How was school today," get specific. Every parent has gotten the dreaded "fine," as a reply to questioning how their child's school day was. It just doesn't inspire an interesting conversation. Instead, check out this list of 30 better questions, like "What was the nicest thing you did for someone today?" and "If aliens came to school and beamed up three kids, who do you wish they would take and why?" and find some that you think will resonate with your child.
- Get familiar with their school-day schedule. If your child's teacher hasn't given you a general schedule, ask for one. That way, you'll know to ask what your child created in art class or what games she played during P.E. that day. Having basic information about what your kid actually did at school is a great tool for starting a conversation.
- Be ready to listen when your child is ready to talk. When my daughter walks in from school, she usually wants two things: a snack and some downtime. I've learned that trying to talk to her about her day then is a lost cause. But before bed, she's always eager to tell me stories about school, so I make sure we have extra time to chat then.
- Read the signs they're giving you. If your child comes home from school sad, grumpy, or angry, it could very well mean that something happened at school to make them that way. Don't push, but when the time is right, ask about what caused the bad mood.
- Put down your phone. Our kids know when we're only half listening to them, so be sure you're focusing when they're ready to talk. Put down the phone, let the laundry wait until later, and give them your complete attention.
- Don't be a stranger to the teacher. Don't wait for your parent-teacher conference to get on a first-name basis with your child's teacher. (Though that conference is important, too.) Developing a good relationship means you'll feel comfortable reaching out to ask how your child is interacting with peers, progressing academically, and behaving. Great teachers want their students to excel in all areas of school life and will be happy to enlist you as a partner in ensuring that success.
- Make friends with parents of classmates. If you have a child who is notoriously tight-lipped, befriending their classmates' parents can help you learn more about school life, assuming their children are chattier. Ask a couple of moms out for coffee after drop-off, and you might be surprised at what you can learn from them.