One step onto the crowded train, you start to imagine the joy on your child’s face as they share news from their day. You’re prepared to listen to what they have to say and to give the guidance they need. Finally, you’re home. You open the door, your mind goes blank, and all you could ask is, “What did you learn today?”
Nothing like what you were anticipating. The response is almost always some variation of “I don’t know” or “nothing”. It can be discouraging at best. At Spark Math, we know the struggle. We want to inspire young learners and empower parents like you with questions that will really get your child talking and inspire deeper learning through conversation.
Not sure where to start? In this article, you’ll find our top five questions to ask to get your child talking and give you insight into what they’re really learning at school.
1) What is one thing that you were grateful for today at school?
Directing your child to reflect and appreciate the good things in life is a great way to end their school day and start their interactions with you. You want to prioritise their social and emotional needs before digging into what they’ve learnt. This sets a positive mood for the rest of the conversation.
Gratitude also prompts them to discover the silver lining even if they have a really bad day at school. Psychology research shows that instilling gratitude in your child encourages them to be more engaged in their school life, build stronger social bonds, and develop greater resilience in times of adversity.
2) What made you feel proud?
Drawing your child’s attention to something they take pride in is another fantastic way to get them primed to talk about their day. Social and emotional development is crucial for young learners. Recognise their effort and accomplishments, school-related or not. Allow them to feel proud of what they have achieved.
Research shows instilling a healthy sense of pride in what they have learnt or done nourishes their self-esteem and builds confidence. That confidence inspires a desire for higher achievement both in and out of the classroom. Give them praise and celebrate this moment with them.
3) What questions did you ask today in class?
Asking questions in class helps your child advance learning by applying their prior knowledge to make sense of new information. Take an interest in the questions they asked to show that you value their engagement in the learning process. This reinforces active participation in class that grows critical thinking skills and learning success.
The process of recalling a question that they had — and explaining what they learnt from it — reinforces new concepts and deepens learning too. In psychology terms, it’s called the “protégé effect“. It’s a student-centred learning approach to turn abstract concepts, especially math and science, into concrete learning.
4) What was the worst thing that happened at school today?
Sometimes you can read from your child’s face that it just isn’t their day. You want to know what happened so that you can offer them comfort or advice. However, bringing up things that upset them — failing a math quiz or school bullying — can be just as difficult even at a young age.
You can set a positive example by making the first move. “Today at work, I felt challenged when ____. What was hard for you today?” Show your child that it’s okay to be vulnerable at times. Then, listen actively, validate your child’s feelings, and be empathetic to their concerns.
This is also a great place for follow-up questions to learn how they worked through the challenge, or encourage them to look for a solution. “Can you show me the math problem that was hard for you? Maybe we can do it together.” This reassures them that they’re not alone and makes them feel more confident asking for help.
5) What would you have liked to do differently?
When your child is facing a problem, resist the urge to jump in right away to offer your words of wisdom. Instead, ask questions that will guide them to think through the problem, identify the root cause, and brainstorm solutions. This returns power to your child in what may feel like an otherwise powerless situation.
Focus on what they could do differently, not what they wished was different. This can be a reaction, a practice, or the courage to ask a question. Let them see how their choices can change their perception and vice versa. Showing children that they have choices, even when things seem to be out of control, empowers them to be resilient and take responsibility for their actions. Ultimately, this can determine the outcome of their success.
Final tips for productive conversations with your child
Catching up with your child after school can foster a caring and trusting relationship. By asking mindful questions, you can eventually pique your child’s excitement and let their thoughts roll. It’s ok if they don’t respond with a long, thorough response to every question. The idea is to have many small chats over time that will eventually lead to a full conversation about their school life.
Practice makes perfect. Like all things, building healthy habits into your lifestyle takes practice. Once you build a habit of engaging, in critical thinking conversations with your child, they will begin offering information or asking questions themselves.
Spark a conversation with your child by checking out our Spark Math online classes with a FREE trial class today. Your child can look forward to animated explanations and highly interactive lessons that help to master math heuristics.