Y’all, kids are complicated — and when it comes to extracting information from them about how their day away from home was, it turns out a simple “how was your day?” is pretty much the worst thing to ask if you really want them to dish. It seems like a benign question — and it pretty much is — but its just not going to get you results. In fact, it’s a quick way to shut down.
You: “So, how was school today?”
Your kid: “Fine, I guess.”
You: “Well, what did you learn? What did you do?”
Your kid: “Nothing.”
You: “Really? Eight entire hours have elapsed since I last spoke to you. It was morning, and now, magically, it’s the afternoon. Not one thing — not one single thing — occurred in the 480 minutes between then and now?”
Your kid: *shrugs*
Getting information about the school day from a child who’s attention is most likely focused on a snack, a little homework and, if the gods and their parents are kind, an hour or so of Mario Maker, often feels like an exercise in futility and espionage.
Later, if you’re very lucky, your kid might let it slip that they started learning fractions or that the gym teacher farted during lunchtime line-up, and it was hilarious.
But if you try to get them to elaborate, they’ll clam up quick. Don’t they know that you’re just trying to ensure they don’t grow up to sell speakers out of the back of a truck by valuing their education and investing in their futures through the magic of vital parental involvement?
Yeah, they probably don’t. Can you really blame them? They’re usually all schooled out by the time you get them back, and the last thing that they want to do is provide an expository oral report about the trivialities of their day.
Even so, you should keep trying, because there’s a whole slew of evidence to suggest that parental involvement is key to a child’s educational success. Being genuinely interested and invested in what they’re learning definitely qualifies.
Bottom line, you just have to switch tactics. Asking open-ended questions and being more conversation (as opposed to interrogation) minded is much more likely to get the words flowing. Need a place to begin? Try these:
- Tell me about today’s “thorn” (a not-great thing that happened) at school.
- Now tell me about the “rose” (the best thing that happened).
- Did anyone say something funny or tell a good joke?
- Was it a “play with your friends at recess” kind of day? Or a “chill by yourself on the swings” kind of day?
- You had art/music/computer today, right? What kind of project are you working on?
- Tell me something that you learned today that I don’t know. If you can stump me, I’ll do a goofy dance/read to you for an extra 10 minutes/watch an entire Minecraft YouTube video with you (insert whatever works here).
- Tell me something kind that you did for someone today.
- Tell me something kind that someone else did for you.
- How many stars would you give the cafeteria food today?
- Did your friends get along really well today?
- Tell me two things you learned today and one thing you didn’t. I’ll try to guess which one is the imposter.
- If you could have one subject all day, what would it be?
- If you and your teacher were body-swapped, what’s the first thing you would do?
- If you could switch classroom jobs with someone this week, who would it be?
- If you could pick what you learned in social studies what would you pick? Math? Science? Reading?
- If you could interview the principal, what would you ask her?
- If we had a time machine that went back one day, would you change anything about today?
- If the librarian said you could keep one book forever, which one would it be?
You may have noticed that some of these questions aren’t particularly direct, and that’s the beauty of it. The further away you can start from tasking your child with rattling off a blow-by-blow of the day’s events, the more likely they are to get there organically.
It’s the same with questions that focus on the social workings of your child’s day — like “did your friends get along?” They might not give you an academic syllabus to work with, but the interactions your kid has and whether or not they are good or bad can be valuable information to have.
Finally, if you decide to try one of the silly game questions — like “stump me” or “two truths and a lie” — remember that there’s no shame in pretending to be stumped once in a while, if only to incentivize the continuation of the game.
But chances are, you won’t need to pretend. Unless you already know that T. Rex had a mouth so riddled with bacteria that he could literally kill his prey with bad breath and a septic bite, or that pioneers used little patties of cow poop to start their campfires, of course.
Originally published January 2016. Updated June 2017.