Encouraging Conversation with your Preschooler about School

A Montessori learning environment is like no other … our main objective at LMS is to provide a carefully planned, stimulating environment which will help children to develop within themselves foundational habits, attitudes, skills and ideas essential for a lifetime of creative thinking and learning. Respect and courtesy in our school is the foundation for everything we do and as each child enters our carefully prepared environment s/he quickly learns basic classroom expectations. Each child – whether a toddler or a preschooler learns valuable life skills such as putting away work where they found it. They also learn how to pick up after themselves, how to sit at the table and work or eat, how to walk carefully with materials in the classroom, how to respect the work of classmates and teachers and perhaps most important of all – how to be independent. These are “life skills” and ones the child will use and value throughout her/his life.

Throughout the day children are busy learning, helping, and cooperating in a myriad of ways. Their days are filled with social interactions and intellectual challenges. Children are present in the moment and often cannot recall all the experiences of the day on demand. It is common for parents to ask teachers what their child did in class during the day because they can’t get her/him to share about their school day at home. They lament that often they respond with “nothing”! But of course, their child’s day was filled with lots of ‘learning and doing’.

At LMS we offer large blocks of work time for the children – about two hours for toddlers and three hours for primary students. All work in the classroom is child directed to encourage concentration and repetition. During these large and open blocks of time, toddlers are busy on a variety of fine motor, sensory, art, language and gross motor activities. Similarly, the primary children are busy with a variety of materials in practical life, sensorial, mathematics, language, and cultural arts. Each child can work on a large selection of materials s/he prefers after getting a lesson from the teacher and is busy working and socializing with classmates during the day.

So when the young child is asked at home “what did you do today?” they may be unsure of how to respond. Parents feel quite frustrated when they ask their child what they did at school today the reply is usually “nothing.” When inquiring about their school day, young children need more direct questioning and help to be guided through the conversation to help them recall their day.

Instead of asking “What was the worst/best part of your day?” or “What did you learn today?” it may be better to ask simple, yet direct questions and respond in a way to encourage more conversation with the young child. Instead of asking “what did you eat for lunch today?” you can say “did you have carrots or broccoli for lunch today?” or ‘how was the pasta for lunch today?” this can then spur into a longer conversation and invite more recall of the day’s events.

As children mature chronologically in the primary classrooms the conversation can be directed by asking them “Can you tell me three things you learned today?” – A simplistic question, but one that requires a complex mental process to answer it. The metacognition to recall three things learned out of all the many other happenings during the day is difficult. It requires thinking back to lessons and extracting exact information of the day.

With younger children, it is easier to ask them to share about one thing of their day. Or ask more specifically, “Did you work on your world map today?” “Did you learn the “m” sound today?” “Did you learn to trace your name today?” “Did you use scissors today?” Not only does this focus the child on what they learned in school, but it also shows them that you are taking an active role in their learning and education. When children start to bring maps, language and math papers home it not only helps them remember what work s/he did in class that day but also helps forge a stronger bond with parents and cement their learning.

Don’t interview for pain. If your child was sad at drop off. It’s not a good idea to start off the conversation with “were you sad for a long time after I left?” Rather it may be better to start off with “did you get play outside?” “You made great picture today. Did you sit with xxx (friend) to make it?” etc.

Asking direct rather than vague questions helps in understanding what happened in your child’s classroom during the day. You’ll soon realize that your child is really doing a lot of work at school, and you’ll be pleased with the increased communication between the two of you as you help your child develop skills of retention and recall.

A Poem for Parents: Nothing
When children come home at the end of the day,
The question they’re asked as they scurry to play is,
“What did you do at school today?”
And the answer they give
makes you sigh with dismay.
“Nothing, I did nothing today!”
Perhaps nothing means
that I played with blocks, counted to ten, or sorted some rocks.
Maybe I painted or learned to tie my shoe
Or learned what happens when you mix red and blue
Maybe I learned to tuck in my chair and put my work away
Or maybe I learned to be kind to a friend while I was playing outside today,
Maybe my scissors followed a line and I learned to write my name.
Maybe I learned some sounds or numbers or learned to play a new game,
Maybe I made a craft or sang a song from beginning to end,
Or maybe I learned to play with a special, brand new friend.
When you’re in preschool
And your heart has wings,
“Nothing” can mean so many, many things.
(Author Unknown)

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