This week and next, thousands of four and five-year olds will be starting in Reception class at school (depending whether their school does a phased entry or takes them all in on the first day). For the first time, many of them will be spending at least half of their waking hours away from their parents/caregivers. That means that for many parents/caregivers, we won’t know what they get up to for half their waking day. They’ll have new experiences and create memories in Reception that we won’t be able to share – unless we can find out from them (or their teacher) what they’ve been up to. That’s not always as simple as it sounds, so here are some tips and techniques for finding out what your child’s been up to at school.
So here are some tips and techniques that I’ve found useful in the past with Reception (and older) age children:
- Avoid ‘closed questions’ – try to steer away from ‘Did you have a nice day?’ and other closed questions that tend to prompt a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer; closed questions get closed answers on the whole, unless you have a very chatty and forthcoming child.
- Go for ‘open’ questions instead, ones where you can’t predict the answer. These usually start with where, when, how, who, what and why. There’s no guarantee you’ll get anything more than ‘fine’ in response to ‘How was School?’ or ‘Stuff’ in answer to ‘What did you do today?’, but it does increase your likelihood of getting something by way of an answer.
- Don’t bombard your child with questions as soon as they come out of school. Chances are, they’ll have had a tiring day, concentrating hard on all the activities presented, so will probably just want to let off steam for a bit when they emerge from the classroom. So maybe leave the conversation until either, they spontaneously volunteer some information, or they are relaxing with a drink and snack after getting home and chilling/playing for a bit.
- Use the home-school book or the class/school newsletter to find out what your child has been doing in class eg the topic they’re looking at, and ask them about that. ‘I see you’ve been doing X at school. That sounds interesting . . . . ‘
- Use some well-formed questions aimed at getting them to think about their day in a slightly different way, for example, ‘what was the best thing that happened in school today?’ or ‘what happened at school today that made you laugh?’
- Share something about your day – model the kind of information you’re looking for from them. This will help them learn to reciprocate and tell you something about their day.
- Don’t expect a detailed conversation with your child’s teacher at the end of the day when you’re collecting your child. In my experience, if there is something they think you need to know (like your child falling over in the playground), they’ll tell you. If there’s something you want to convey to the teacher, either put it in the home-school book, drop them a note or make an appointment to see them.
And if they come out of school clutching a painting or model of some kind, try to avoid the ‘That’s lovely, what is it?’ approach. Instead try to get them to talk about it – ‘tell me about your picture’ or ‘that looks interesting/complicated/lovely’ etc.
Whatever your approach, most children will gradually reveal information about what they’ve been up to and about the trials, tribulations and successes of their day at their own pace and in their own way. We just need to make sure we can identify the signals and be receptive to their offerings when the time comes.
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