As if adapting to the new (and extended) life with the presence of COVID-19 wasn't difficult enough, we now have to relearn things we thought we knew, and rethink many things we thought we had a firm grasp on.
School is one of those big things, seeing the world shift from in-person to online learning, and then onward to who knows where next.
Under that education umbrella, there are after-school programs, and we talked about perfecting the after-school routine not too long ago. One step of that routine being talking with our kids after their days of learning, and asking questions about the highs and lows (because we all know kids aren’t freely giving up such information).
Why are questions important?
Well, as mentioned just above, sometimes asking a question is the only way we can guarantee at least a few words will leave the mouths of our kids when in our presence. Sure, those words might be “fine,” “good,” or “it was OK,” but at least it’s something.
If you’re lucky, though, you might get a few sentences, and even if those sentences don’t divulge too many details, they should provide enough to guide your follow-up questions...until you’re finally able to piece together how your child's day was.
Asking questions is also important because, while kids can be “closed” and quiet, some of them crave the opportunity to share, and actually, unbeknownst to you, want your questions and need those questions as segues into particular topics they aren't sure of how to broach.
Questions to ask kids after school
I won’t go into too much detail about why it’s not the best to simply ask “how was your day,” but it’s a point worth mentioning. With your questions, aim for the open-ended, and mix things up while remaining consistent.
Meaning, ask questions that encourage well-thought out responses. If you ask “yes” or “no” questions, conversation can get shut down quickly, and if you ask the same thing over and over again, expect the same canned responses.
And kids learn quickly—after asking my 3-year-old what he learned at school every single day, he made it a joke - and thought it was quite hilarious - to answer the same exact way, every time, even though we both knew it wasn’t true (“Phonics song, American flag, and ABCs;” every. Single. Time.
Anyway, and with that said, try to remain consistent about asking questions in general. As in, doing so every day. It allows kids to prepare answers, and serves as a trigger in terms of the quicker they can answer mom’s or dad’s questions, the quicker they can move on with the rest of the day.
What did you learn today?
While I just showed how this can backfire, most kids won’t be as deliberately mischievous! So, you might get at least a glimpse into the main learning points on the day, and then can confirm those points with the homework they’re tasked with.
You can also ask about what they’re excited to learn about tomorrow, or what they need to do to prepare for tomorrow’s learning, and of course, what is something they struggled with in school today. You might uncover the need for an after-school enrichment activity, or some type of supplemental learning activity to either spark motivation or build skills in a particular area.
What was your favorite part of the day?
Kids who had a really good day will have no problem excitedly answering this one! And those who can’t or don’t give a great answer, it’s usually a tell that perhaps the day didn’t have a highlight, and there is something more to talk about.
Keeping on with the positive, though, a difficult thing to do as kids grow up is to keep track of their interests, and that includes the school topics they’re passionate about. From here, we can start to paint the picture of what else we can be doing with our kids to take those interests further, whether that’s enlisting a coding tutor to help take curiosities to the next level, or finding them a robotics club to join.
Did you make good choices today?
Guilt is so, so tough for many kids. While they might not jump to share something, and can be OK with that because they aren’t technically lying about anything, if asked, that all goes out the window.
Some kids will proudly say “Yes, I made great choices today.” And sure, while it’s a “yes” or “no” question, it's one that naturally leads to additional conversation.
This question also provides the opportunity to reinforce the good choices/behaviors, and allows kids to reflect on their days to ensure they really did go about them in the best way possible.
Who did you play with today?
Some of the phrasing and delivery on this and other questions is going to depend on the age of your child, so it might be “who did you interact with?” or “who did you study with today?”
Anyway, it goes without saying, but socialization is key. And, don’t think just because kids might only be learning online, that they don’t have the opportunity to interact with other students.
If it’s not happening in school, there are other ways kids can remain social even when practicing social distancing (or when they're only able to interact with others online).
What made you laugh today?
It’s important that kids don’t view your question-asking as prying or grilling, or, searching for the bad stuff. Plus, laughter is positively powerful, so why not extend the funny moments as long as we can?
Meaning, think about something funny that happened to you recently. Just thinking about it probably makes you laugh more, and then, trying to tell that story to someone else without smiling let alone breaking down in laughter is nearly impossible.
What questions did you ask today?
Some kids have a hard time with classroom participation, and that’s OK. But, we should still encourage them to participate, and encourage them to get clarification on those things with which they’re experiencing difficulty.
That’s one of the benefits of one-on-one tutoring—the opportunity to break down those barriers, and reinforce the fact that questions are OK, and expected.
When’s your next test (or big project)?
This one is a little more specific, and to the point. Kids can easily fly under the radar when it comes to their schoolwork, but having something asked about makes that more difficult by putting everything on the table, and, actually can serve as a reminder that they do have something coming up, and need to start studying or preparing for it.
What are your goals for tomorrow?
This is a powerful question, and can be used in a couple of different manners. One way is to reinforce a lesson, and to drive the point home that - even though things didn’t go as planned today - there is tomorrow to make up for it, so keep it top of mind as you move forward.
This question is also valuable in that it can take the place of asking a few of the above questions. Meaning, if you ask what your child’s goals are for tomorrow, it might naturally bring out something that didn’t go great “today,” or, could shine light on the fact that there is a big exam or project tomorrow that they want to conquer.
Questions are about more than getting answers
As you can see from the explanations above, the question is a powerful tool in sparking valuable conversation with our children.
But also, asking questions shows our kids how much we care, and can give them a reason to tell us something they’ve been wanting to talk about, but haven't found the opportunity to do so.