“Ysa, I asked my son what he did in school this morning and he said he just played. Every time I ask him he will just say he played in school or sometimes he would say I don’t know. How come?!” 

THIS is a very common question I get since I started teaching especially with little children. As in literally the most common question. It only differs on the parent’s approach when asking me this question.

First of all, and I know you will probably never agree with me on this one but this is actually true: The best way for children to learn is through play. Yes, you read that right and I can feel right now that you are ready to prove me wrong.

Play is the best thing that can ever happen to a child because that’s where he can actually use what he knows and will discover new things. Since children are energetic creatures and would often move around and won’t be able to sit still, instead of teaching them the traditional way where they sit and memorize all day long… You can actually ask them to play a game with you and incorporate some academic learning goal and I promise you, they will understand it further.

Now that I gave you a short description about how it works, let me now get back to that question. We have to keep in mind all the time that children are NOT adults. The way we talk to them takes a very different approach compared to how we talk to adults. That being said, the way we ask them questions should be taken into big consideration.

The questions “what did you do today in school?” or “what did you learn in school?” is a very broad question especially to a 4 year old child. Ask a 10 year old boy that question and he can probably recite to you like a parrot about that things he did in school for that day. But for younger age, especially the early years it’s just not possible. They don’t understand the concept of the word learn. Yes they probably heard that a hundred times but they are still in the process of actually understanding what it really means.

Asking broad questions to children will not give you the answer you are hoping for. They will not give you enough details to satisfy your eagerness to know if your child is learning.

“So how should we do it Ysa?!”

Simple. Change the way you ask questions. Be more specific with the details you want to know. Give them hints. Analyze these questions:

  • Did you go to Maths center today? If yes, what activity did you do?
  • What did you build today using ________? (name of toy inside the classroom)
  • Who did you sit with today during snack time?
  • Did you play with ______ and ________ today? What game/s did you play?
  • Can you help me name/write these numbers?
  • I noticed you have a stamp today, how did you get that prize?

Notice that the questions presented shows more specific details? There are so many things running in your child’s head and asking them a very broad question will not help synthesize the information that they can give you. Children are still learning to assimilate and accommodate information. Helping them narrow things down will also teach them to focus on one detail at a time… Which will eventually lead to multitasking as they grow older.

So if you ask them something broad, then they will also give you a broad answer because not everyone is keen on giving out details simply because they are still in the process of developing that.

Take note: Ask them in a way that they will not feel they are being interrogated. The tone of your voice can also hinder their comfort to share what they have in mind.

“But that will take so much time of questioning. It’s tiring Ysa!”

Yes I know it can take so much time.. and even patience for us too. But, BUT that’s just how it works with children. They are still learning to give more attention to details. We can’t rush them but we can help them learn how to do it with regular practice. I can’t tell you how many times I felt exhausted asking them questions so I’d be able to get more details, but it works.

The key is to give them some cue words to help them remember more details and they will be able to share it to you afterwards. Another thing you can do it to be aware of what they are doing inside the classroom through casual teacher chats or checking the calendar (some schools give out term calendar that notes the lessons they are going to be taking up throughout the term) or if there is a weekly newsletter from the teacher about the things they did for that week. Use it as your guide on what to ask your child. Just remember to make your question simple and give hints. Avoid asking questions that is only answerable by yes or no like “Do you know how to count from 1-10?” because children are smart enough to say yes to make you feel “okay, she said yes so it’s a yes.”

So the next time you ask your child what they learned in school, scrap that generic question and try to be a bit more specific with care and genuine interest. You can do it!