FAVORITES: How to Spark After School Conversations

I was talking with a friend of mine whose little one started pre-K this year and she was talking about how she feels like she can’t get her kid to talk about school at all. The only answers she could get were one word conversations enders or else “I don’t know” And I TOTALLY went through that last year when my son was starting preschool so I thought I’d share some of my favorite ways I actually get my kids to talk about school instead of just “It was good” and “I don’t know”

First- I have come to expect that the question “How was your day?/How was school?” gets me NOWHERE. I still ask it because I want the kids to know I do care about their day and their feelings, but I have zero expectations that it will lead to conversion.
Also, I have learned that the after school conversation success actually starts for us BEFORE school. On the drive to school I would start prepping my kids (my son especially since he’s in Kindergarten now and has a little more structure to his day) about what I wanted them to tell me about or think about during the day. This started with a really simple desire last year to have my son learn his classmate’s names. So starting about a month into the school year, I would tell him on the way to school that I wanted him to tell me who brought show and share (show and tell for those of us in the older generation) that day, and what it was they brought. This strategy worked because it gave him one specific thing to remember in the midst of a full day of very exciting things for him. It also worked because I knew show and share was toward the end of the day and was something he really looked forward to. It was a lot easier then to keep him talking once I got him talking.

From there, I started adding on more questions that required more than a yes, no, or other one word answer. I started with talking about specific subjects that I knew he enjoyed the most (this was probably easier for me to discover since my kids go to a co-op for preschool so I get to watch them in action once a month. If you have the ability to volunteer at your kiddo’s school one in a while I highly recommend it!) So I would start with things like “Which story did you read today? Can you tell me what happened in the story?” or “Tell me about what you did during recess” or “What was your favorite yoga pose today?” or “What sport are you practicing in PE” With my daughter I’ve found that the thing she is most excited about is which “song flower” gets picked because she LOVES singing with her classmates.

These are typically the kind of questions we ask on the car ride home. I save the more difficult or emotionally loaded questions for at home where I break out my secret weapon- food. I don’t know about you, but I am far more likely to share something vulnerable after some good food or drink. The same seems to apply with my kids. I will say that I don’t try to expect big conversations if I have something extra special for snack (ie cookies) because the kids will be way too excited about eating and devouring the food and begging for another for us to really chat. So something more along the lines of apples and peanut butter or carrot sticks and dip seem to work best for us… Here are some of the snack time questions I try to ask:

*What kind thing did you do for someone today?/How did you help someone today?
*What was your favorite thing you did today and the hardest thing you did today
*Was there anything that confused you today? (WARNING: this usually leads to non-school related stuff. especially if your family watches the news or accidentally has the news on the radio on the way too or from school. I’m glad we’re talking about hard stuff as it comes up, but sometimes I am anticipating hearing about struggling with vowel sounds and instead I get asked what “Close the Camps” means)
*Did your teacher do anything that made you laugh today?
*Who is your best friend? (Non-parents may think this is a really strange question, but preschoolers and early grade schoolers seem to have a new best friend every day so it’s kind of the same thing as asking “who did you play with today” or “who are you missing”)

 

And finally, after snack time (and let’s be honest, only on day’s that I’m feeling extra patient) I’ll ask this, which will transition us into some creative playtime:

*Can you pretend to be your teacher and teach me about one thing your teacher taught you today?

 

We’ve made it a priority to talk about our days, even the little things, because one of my mentor moms in MOPS mentioned how talking about the little things leads to talking about the big things. If you don’t talk to your kids about the random school stuff that delighted them or made them confused then it will be harder for them to come to you about things like bullying or peer pressure or anxiety or other BIG feelings. So with that in mind…

Do you have any tried and true questions to add to this list? Any other tips to get your kids to open up about your day?

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