Friday, March 25, 2016

Conversations about school with your child

The drive home from school is a great time for a conversation.  If your children are young enough to not be glued to a cell phone, often it’s one of the few times for a natural, undistracted connection about each other’s day.  Yet, how do you get your child to tell you about the experiences you want to hear?  Below are tips on how to do so, by age:

You may find your toddler humming along to a song sung in school that day or repeating parts of a conversation overheard.  Toddlers reflect on their day by mirroring and repeating.  Toddlers are unlikely to go into elaboration about their day or respond to open-ended questions.  Try questions that allow you to learn who their friends are and what they love about their teachers, school, and day, such as ‘Who did you play with today?” Or “What did Mrs. Smith show you today?”  Usually if you hold back on popping in a favorite CD and just drive in peaceful silence, your little chatterbox will start filling in the silence as thoughts of the day arise.

Primary aged students are still quite literal.  It helps to know their schedule that day and then ask a specific, open-ended question, such as, “What did you work on in art class today?” Or “What did you play at recess?”  Then give your child time to answer; kids need time to ponder.  Try not to push too hard.  You can also start by sharing about your day.  It’s a good time to get your child in the habit of reciprocating on asking how one’s day went.

The elementary years are known as the years of productivity; kids love to complete projects at this age and begin to focus on the social dynamics of school.  It’s also an age for a lot of drama, so try not to fish for negativity.  Today’s drama can be a ‘nothing’ tomorrow; kids tend to get over upsets quickly while caring, well-intended parents stay ‘stuck’ in their child’s past issues.  A good car conversation starter for this age group is to make a ritual or game of the sharing on the drive home.  Have a list of prompts you can choose from:  ‘Best thing about today…..’, ‘Most interesting fact I learned….’, ‘Conversation I had today….’, ‘Nicest thing someone did today for another….’.  Share back so your child learns and comes to care about your day as well. Optimism, resiliency, and openness are learned from having those attributes modeled.  Share your stories and give space for reflection; it may be end of day while tucking your child in that they get back to the prompt or elaborate.  

Middle School
Middle school is a time of self-focus, peer-focus, and a regression from the productive drive experienced in the elementary years.  You will often hear about the negative before the positive.  A good strategy is to ask balancing questions or respond neutrally to any negative comments and wait for what is to follow.  Have a rule that the cell phones don’t get used for the first 10 minutes of the ride or you are likely to lose them the whole ride home.  The Middle School years are a perfect time to advance your parental role to one of life coach in addition to rule setter and enforcer.  Share stories from your childhood and lessons learned.  Empathize and ask them empowering questions like, “What do you feel comfortable doing about that problem?” and “Is this something important enough for you to speak to the teacher?”  Be careful not to take over their ‘work’ as come high school, they will need the self-advocacy and self-calming skills you encourage and model for them now.

Want to get a little education in there as well?  Follow up at home with a topic your child brings up in conversation.  Is there a museum with an exhibit relevant to the subject being learned about?  Can you share an experience, opinion, or enthusiasm your child can relate to?  Is there an educational game you might play together on family night that reinforces a concept?

Here are some topics all of our children at Princeton Montessori School, toddler and up, are learning about:

  • the seasons and cycles of the earth  (equinoxes, solstices, changes to the land)
  • how to calm the mind and body  (breath, silence, stillness, getting in tune with our body)
  • conflict resolution  (using respectful words to express feeling and requests)
  • the story numbers tell
  • word play  (words that mean more than one thing, poetry, idioms, rhymes, etc)
  • grace and courtesy
  • care of self / care of others
  • learning more about something you are passionate about
  • the wonders of the universe
  • the love of a good book
  • how to be a good observer
  • to acknowledge our own accomplishments great and small and take pride in self-reliance

And here are some recent topics for elementary and middle school:

Lower Elementary
  • Musical Week
  • Recent storyteller visitor
  • Researching the planets

Upper Elementary
  • Operetta week - April 4th
  • Research reports on the United States
  • Reading groups

Middle School
  • American farming practices and food processing practices
  • Current Events for the month of March
  • Preparing for their trip to the Andalusian Spain
  • Steps to writing a strong thesis statement and research report