How Was Your Day?

Preschool is a great experience for young children. There are new friendships formed, academic skills introduced and reinforced, a growing sense of confidence at succeeding in independent tasks, and lots and lots of fun to be had. As parents we know all these things are happening when we drop our child off at the door. However, when we pick him up again at the end of class, we sometimes feel that for all the information he provides us about the day, he could have just sat frozen in a vacuum for the hours he was there.

Our curiosity is often burning for information and anecdotes, and so it can be difficult to understand why our child is not usually inclined to share what happened in his day. The Hopkins preschool staff would like to offer insight into why children tend to let go of the preschool day so readily (rather than spending time processing it). In addition, they have provided advice on how to get a sense of what went on in the school day from teachers, written communication and your child himself.

LIVING IN THE MOMENT?

Preschool aged children live in the moment. They concentrate on what is in front of them in the present, rather than what has already happened in the past. When a child does not tell you about his school day, he is not hiding the events from you on purpose, he has simply moved on already. Developmentally it is a difficult task for a child to go back and review parts of his day—unless something of great importance to him has happened.

Children also have different personality traits that shape the timing of when they might share details of their day. A child who tends to get his energy from being around and interacting with people (an extrovert) will likely be more chatty on the car ride home, because his chatter is actually helping him to regain some of the energy spent during his school day. A child who tends to regain her energy by sitting quietly on her own (an introvert) will have a difficult time answering questions just after her school day because she needs space and time to regain energy form her busy day. In addition, some children have a sense of ownership over their school day—they feel it is uniquely theirs—and their pride in going to school and accomplishing things independently results in keeping mum about details.

Listen to your child, and watch her reactions to your questioning, in order to gain an understanding of when she is most likely to want to talk. If you will get a better conversation out of her if you wait until after dinner, then it is worthwhile to do so—rather than to try to get information from a child who is determined to be tight-lipped. Also remember that information has a funny way of dispensing itself. Although you may be starting conversations and offering opportunities to share often, sometimes details about a certain project or day in school don’t come out into the open until months afterward—when it finally strikes your child’s fancy to talk about it.

BUT WHAT DID YOU DO TODAY?

Although we know we might not get the satisfying sorts of answers we would receive if we had asked an adult for information, it is natural and important to show curiosity about our child’s day. How can we help to focus our children on the past, and have a conversation about events without making it a stressful interaction resulting in that timeless exchange we all remember:
What did you do today?
Nothing

Ask questions about specific and concrete details of the day. Rather than ask something wide ranging like “what did you do today?” ask “What did you have for snack today?” Other examples of specific questions that could draw out information are:

Did you go outside to play or did you play in the gym?
What songs did you sing today?
What game did you play with your friends during play time?
Did you do an art project today? What did you make?

These are questions that you may already know the answer to, or that may not provide you with any further information than the answer. However, having a simple conversation about even a brief detail of the day—and not asking for anything further—provides you and your child with a successful habit of talking about his day. As he grows older, and is able to and interested in remembering and processing parts of his day with you, you will already have had practice and precedence for doing so.

Avoid questions that feel like there should be a correct answer. All parents hope that their child has a good day, has fun, did a good job. Asking your child “Did you have a good day?” “Did you do a good job?” creates a stressful interaction. These questions give children the sense that they SHOULD have a good day, it SHOULD be fun, and doesn’t allow an opening for saying something was difficult. Open ended and concrete questions allow your child the space to talk about what is most important for him. We can remember ourselves the pressure we felt when someone asked us as children “Did you have fun?”

HOW CAN WE GET SPECIFIC?

Specific and concrete questions will be better conversation starters, but sometimes it is hard to even know what to be specific about! The preschool teachers realize that children do not provide details about the day, which is why they are often working in over-drive to present you with information you can use. Be sure to keep the following things in mind when investigating what goes on in your child’s day. Use what the teachers provide to create specific questions.

  • Newsletters: The teachers are creating newsletters with details of the school day and the week. Be sure to read these letters. They are chock full of information, and provide great insight into what to talk to your child about. If the newsletter lets you know the class is interested in birds and is working on creating pictures of birds, you as a parent can ask “What kind of bird are you drawing a picture of in school?”
  • Often the teacher has posted highlights of the day on a whiteboard outside of class. These bulleted items on the board offer solid pieces of information in which to form a concrete question. If the board notes that the children played outside in the sandbox, as a parent you can ask “What did you build in the sandbox today?”
  • Our preschool programs do a fantastic job of documenting class activities. Often there are art projects and photos of the children in the hallway. As parents it is often easy to let this documentation fade right into the background because we are in a hurry to pick our child up from school and get him home in time for lunch. However, slowing down with your child and really examining what is posted in the halls will certainly be worth your time and effort. Children are almost always eager to point out what they created. You can spur them on with a simple prompt “Tell me about this.”
  • Teachers have a method of transferring information and communications back and forth. Sometimes it is a school bucket, sometimes it is the child’s backpack. It is important to remember that although parents and teachers see this means of exchange as important and obvious, your child is very likely to completely forget that something is in there that needs to be addressed. Check your child’s backpack every day she comes home from school.

As our children age, they spend more and more time away from our immediate view. Begin the habit of reaching out to talk to your child about their day early in your child’s school career. Take note of the information provided by teachers, ask specific questions and accept your child’s attitude towards talking about school. These actions invite engagement and provide a secure atmosphere for talking about whatever comes up. We won’t always be with our children, but we want them to know that when they do come home we are ready to hear about everything that went on in their day.

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