Does your afternoon and evening go something like this?
Parent: “What did you do today, honey?”
First grader: “I don’t know/Nothing/I can’t remember/Can I have a cookie?”
That’s certainly how it is in my house. In preschool, that question was answered at times with a tired and hungry growl. In kindergarten, lots of I don’t knows. Today? It would be the same, but I’ve learned a few tricks, thanks in part to my son’s teachers.
Last year, I asked my son’s kindergarten teacher, Erin de Jonckheere, how to get information out of him because I was getting nothing. She offered some great tips. I spoke with her again recently so she could share her wisdom out of the confines of our parent-teacher conference.
Make yourself knowledgeable. “Use the teacher as a tool,” de Jonckheere says. “Teachers should be communicating with the parents, whether through a weekly newsletter or homework letter. Read the stuff the school sends home.” As in read. Don’t just skim. That way, you’re really in tune with your child’s day.
Be specific in your questioning. Kids really don’t have a concept of time, de Jonckheere explained. “You ask them at the end of the day, and they’re not in school mode. They need specific references to the time of day,” she advises. “What did you do in reading today? What activities did you do with math? Did you play any math games? Did you write about in writers’ workshop?” By asking for specific details, you narrow that day down for them. At “morning meeting,” when the students gather in a circle in her class, she has asked kids to share what they did between the end of school yesterday and this morning. “They’ll tell me a story about something that happened two years ago,” she says. So it’s not just us parents.
Ask the teacher what you should ask. We mentioned that our son didn’t tell us much about school to de Jonckheere last year. She said we should ask him about his “alpha-friend” every week. The alpha-friend is smart and fun tactic she uses to get students to learn their letters and read. Lo and behold, he would start to tell me unprompted who the character that week was. We also received a newsletter on a weekly basis, so we knew what they were learning in school. My husband and I could read that, then ask our son what he did in centers, or what he learned about the ocean that day.
Ask about the fun stuff. The tip I heard from parents as we were entering school was to ask who they sat next to at lunch, or who they played with at recess. Answers to both of those questions can lead to stories about other kids and help you figure out the dynamics of the class, what your child is like with their friends, and how they handle things like conflict.
Talk to other parents. We rely on other parents for lots of things. This is yet another one. Now when I do pick up, I get details, particularly from moms of girls. They seem to shed more light on each day than my boy does.
Alone time. My colleague mentioned the best way she gets information out of her daughters is to have a little quiet time with each, alone, each night before bed. I agree. I usually get details out of my kids when we’re alone in the car, snuggled up after reading a book or walking somewhere by ourselves.