Parent: How was your day? Child: Fine. Parent: (sigh of frustration)
My children attend a quaint neighborhood school. I feel comfortable inside and outside this school. I have made my face known. I frequent the school through my visits with Frederick and James in tow, volunteering, or simply dropping off items for Lee and Jane. Perhaps part of my confidence and comfort level parading our stroller brigade through the school is that I was formerly a teacher; or perhaps because a few of my former co-workers, and a personal friend (aka James’ mom) work at our school. Regardless, I have made it a mission to know the school, learn the names and the roles of adults who work in our school. I gain this information from my children, other parents, and teachers. I also, learn the names of the students in my children’s classrooms, greeting them on the playground as they run to the tire swing. I offer a good morning as they line-up for the school day, or as I pop-in the classroom to drop off forgotten and required tennis shoes for gym class. Why am I being obsessive, intense, fanatical or just plain psycho-mom? Well, it is simple- I want to know what my children are doing at school.
I want to know who they are playing with, what they are learning, and how they are doing. I would venture to say that all parents have this desire. In fact, playground chats with parents have indeed told me that they rarely get information out of their children about their school day. To be honest, my children are big on sharing and jabbering about their day. I just don’t know where they get the gift of gab from (wink, wink.) However, even I need to probe deeper to get the information I desire.
Generally the information I seek is based on the following ideas:
1. What is my child learning? topic, skill, subject
2. How are they learning it, practicing it, being presented it?
3. How is the learning environment?
4. What were the social interactions among peers during the day? (During learning/work time in the classroom, in specials, and on the playground or free choice) Who are their friends?
Similar to a detective, I actively seek out information about each of my children’s surroundings, and I fish for information in a strategic twenty questions way. I ask peers, teachers, and parents to help me develop a deeper insight. I am persistent. I am an unrelenting mother, protector of my children. It may seem strange, but there is actual strategy and thought into how I delve into the detective work.
Here are my strategies and questions that I pose to my children:
1. I visit the classroom. I look at each area in the classroom.
There might be a word work area, a classroom library with bookshelves, baskets, book boxes and pillows. There could be math boxes containing number charts, counters, ten frames, math books, playing cards or flash cards for fluency practice. Perhaps there will be a carpeted area where morning meetings are held, community circles, read-alouds, mini-lessons, modeled writing, and shared writing take place. There could be tables/desks placed in pods where children have their own space to work. A behavior system chart might be present, though hopefully not (that is a post for another day). There may be round or kidney-shaped tables, where teachers, assess skills individually, meet with small groups for math, reading, writing, and oral language groups. And finally, you might see a class schedule posted in the room. Look for your child’s name and where they sit. Where does your child sit on the carpet? Where is their work displayed- in the classroom, outside the classroom? Is his/her name on the behavior chart (if there is one)? Look at his/her math and reading boxes. These are all things that will help you in gaining understanding of the coveted, questions “How was your day? What did you learn today?”
2. I check-in with the teacher.
I attend parent –teacher conferences and open house. I go to PTO meetings, family fun-nights, and drop-in after school occasionally. If I have time, then I volunteer my time. While I do not email or call daily or even stop the teacher in the hall each morning, I always say good morning, and if there is time, make small talk and generally make myself easily available if there is an issue or I have a question. A friendly face and a quick chat is all that is necessary. I try to be respectful of the teacher’s time, since it is a precious commodity for them. Being friendly and inviting leaves the lines of communication open.
3. I ask my children specific questions.
Based on what the teacher has said and what you know about the classroom and your child’s schedule you are ready to begin your fishing expedition. It is important to give some thought to when you ask your children these questions. Twenty questions directly after school does not work for my children. Directly after school, I do ask the uber general question, “How was your day?” and then let them play. Usually, I receive a “fine,” and a backpack swung in my direction. Occasionally, I get tears and we quickly proceed home. It is on the walk or drive home that I begin my questions. Then the questions commence later at dinner, sometimes during bath time, finishing up around bedtime. Staggering the questioning allows for space, thought, and continued conversation between you and your child throughout the evening.
Here are some specific questions that I use on my own children.
- Tell me about something you did today in school.
- What book did your teacher read aloud today?
- Who is in your reading group? Math group? Oral Language group?
- What is in your math box?
- When do you use your math box?
- What book did you read out of your book box?
- Where did you read your book box books today? Did you read with a buddy or independently?
- Who did you play with at morning recess? Lunch recess?
- What did you play?
- What did you talk about in community circle? In morning meeting?
- What did you share today?
- What specials did you have today?
- Who was your partner today?
- Sometimes, I list each child in the classroom and ask how their day was. This prompts stories, gives me insight into what my child thinks about each student in their class. It opens discussions on how to work with diverse learners and how to choose partners and friends.
- What did you write about today?
- Who did you sit by at lunch? On the carpet? At your table?
- Who was absent today?
- What was your favorite thing about today? What was the worst thing about today?
- Where do you work best in the classroom? Who do you feel you work best by?
I might follow- up with a, “Tell me more about that,” or “Give me more details about that.” These investigations may seem tedious, but they are fruitful in the information you gain about your child’s day. They also prove to your children that you are interested, involved, and listening.
Here’s to revealing the details of the day detectives!