The art of learning to engage with our kids

Fifth Grade Exhibition
Becky Sheinbaum, Denver JDS fifth grade teacher
Fifth Grade Exhibition

By Becky Sheinbaum, Denver JDS fifth grade teacher

Kids are way more fun to talk with than grown-ups. Granted, their vocabulary and cultural context may not extend quite as far as most adults’, but they are wonderfully opinionated and thoughtful about the things that matter to them. So why is it so arduous to elicit more than a grunt or “fine” (if you’re lucky) as a response to the age-old question at pick up: “How was school today?”

Of course our kids are tired. They’ve spent the day focusing harder and wrestling with more new ideas than most of us do in our daily work. They are also figuring out how to maintain their own social and emotional well-being amidst a group of similarly inexperienced peers. It makes sense that they need a little time to process. This kind of reflection is something that we, as adults, can support.

My bag of tricks for evoking more than a grunt from kids is far from revolutionary. Whether it’s a conversation with my own offspring or with my students, if I want to know how they’re doing I prompt them with open-ended questions that don’t require too much analysis before they answer — not “Are you okay?” (too broad) or “What was the best thing that happened today?” (too hard to decide) but “What was one good thing that happened today? Why was it important?” I’ll ask kids to rate their day on their fingers, fist to five (fist = awful, five = best day ever) and explain their assessment. Sometimes I’ll run through different subject areas to check in, “What did you read today?” “What did you struggle with in [fill in blank of kid’s least favorite subject]?” It also helps to stay aware of what they’re doing in school by reading their teachers’ websites or emails, so I can ask more directed questions about specific topics or learning targets. And, of course, since there’s no such thing as a perfect day and people need to vent, I might inquire “What would you change about how today went?”

Some families have structures that make conversation a little easier. My family’s is to share out about our respective adventures at dinner. Because we’ve done this since the kids were little, it’s become a ritual. My daughter always starts with, “FIRST! I arrived.” She then dramatically shares the entire day’s journey, relating everything chronologically. This may be more than anyone needs to know, but at least it’s a reasonably complete picture of how she’s doing. My son likes to highlight the more remarkable academic and personal highlights of his day, which may be easier to parse, but necessitates us asking additional questions about what was left out. 

Kids connect with the adults in their lives differently. My own children are (big surprise) highly voluble — our challenge is prevailing on them to let one another speak. But all kids, like grown-ups, care about having their opinions and perspectives known and honored. Speaking to kids’ passions and directly engaging with what they’ve been learning and doing all day, even if it takes a few attempts to push past the shrugs, allows them to reflect on what they’ve learned and lets them know we care about who they are and what they think.

Want to get an email each time a new blog post goes up? Just click the yellow bell button above this post. Then click on "Blog" and select "Next." Fill out your contact information and select "Sign Up."