Tricks for kick-starting after-school conversations

Kelly shares a tip for getting kids to talk about their school days:

Instead of asking a young, school age child "How was school today?" try asking "What did you do in school
today?" The former gives the child the chance to say, "fine" or "O.K." and leave it at that, but use the latter and you just might find that your child can talk for an hour about the painting he/she did in art class, or a story the teacher read that day.

Sigh. Both my kids are notoriously tight-lipped about what happens at school. The general answer to "what did you do?" is nothing, and "what was your favorite activity today?" is I don’t remember. Not sure why that’s the case. Wish it weren’t so.

How do you encourage after-school conversation?


  1. says

    Try narrowing it down further — “Tell me *one* interesting thing you did today.”

    If that still elicits “nothing! it was boring!”, I’ll go to “OK, what was the *most* boring thing?”

    Once that’s out of their systems, try the first question again.

  2. marjorie says

    sadly, the most effective question for us, since my kid started pre-K (she’s now in first grade) has been: did anyone get a time-out today? she loves to talk about the misbehavior of people who are not her.

    other tricks: what was school lunch? (she brings lunch from home, so school lunch interests her.) did anyone bring in anything interesting for lunch? how is the class pet doing? what’s your classroom job this week, and does everyone like his or her job? what was the funniest thing that happened today? what did you do at recess — who did you play with? what words did you learn in spanish?

  3. Joey says

    How about NOT question your kids immediately? They are at school all day being questioned/tested/quizzed/pressured. And the first thing they get when they get home is a barrage of questions! I don’t think I would respond positively or at length. How about give them time to decompress and digest what happened during their day? Slowly work the questions about their day into the conversations you have with them. I try not to be so overt. I try to find the balance of showing concern/being there for them to talk to and respecting their need for privacy/allowing them to respond according to their time.

  4. says

    At the beginning of the year, my kids’ teachers gave us a list of what each day’s ancillary activity would be — music on Monday, computers on Wednesday, etc. I always check the list before I pick the kids up after school, so I have at least a starting point for conversation: “What did you do in computers today?”, etc.

    But yeah, they mostly want to talk about who got in trouble for what. That’s always an enlightening conversation — one day a kid had gotten in trouble for mooning the class!

  5. says

    I am with Joey. If I ask right away what happened I get nothing. But if I wait a couple hours, around dinner time, and ask a specific question that can’t be answered yes or no, I usually get some details. Sometimes I get 1 minute, sometimes I get an hour, sometimes I get last weeks details too.

  6. says

    For me, the key is volunteering in the classroom. Being familiar with the students and classroom routine gives me a starting point; then I can ask specific questions like, “what was the topic for your photo journals today?” or “what was at each station for centers this morning?”

  7. says

    For me, the key is volunteering in the classroom. Being familiar with the students and classroom routine gives me a starting point; then I can ask specific questions like, “what was the topic for your photo journals today?” or “what was at each station for centers this morning?”

  8. says

    My 7 year old is willing to share if I ask her open ended questions. Now that she’s in 2nd/3rd grade, she’s developing more interest in specific subjects, so I generally have pretty good luck if I ask her what they did in art class or in science.

    And like others, she’s more willing to talk to me once she’s had a chance to unwind a bit.

    I think my favorite response EVER from her was when she was 5 and in kindergarten. I asked her to tell me one interesting thing she had learned that day. She rolled her eyes at me (!), and said,

    “If every day was Parents’ Day, then you’d know.”

  9. says

    My two-year-old will indeed answer “nothing” but I unfortunately have to wait til he’s a little older before he’ll understand the question I read once that I think is great:

    What was the worst thing that happened today?

    I can’t remember where I got this from, but the author’s point was that most people are happy to tell you the worst part of their day, and that gives you an opening to talk about other stuff.

  10. Julie says

    What works best for me is to start by telling my daughter about MY day. I highlight things that a 3-year-old might find interesting, like what I had for lunch or if I saw anybody she knows. Then I ask her about her day. It really works. I have even tested her by first asking her what she did today and hearing, “Nuffing.” Then I tell her about MY day and ask her again. At that point, she will always give me a few details like who she played with or what she ate. The other thing is that 2- and 3-year-olds don’t necessarily have a clear concept of “today”, so you shouldn’t expect too much!

  11. says

    This obviously works better with littler kids (preK-1, say) but we make outrageous statements, like “I bet you had monkey-tail soup for lunch!” or “I heard there were 10 elephants on the playground today.” Usually the kids are more than happy to correct us.

  12. Dee says

    I agree with some of the other comments, especially that from Joey. Thier little minds should have time to relax. I find that my son is more “open” when he has had time to get a drink, a snack and sometimes even a quick little nap.
    My son is in kindergarten and every Friday they bring home a “Friday Folder” that has an outline/schedule of the following weeks objectives, studies, events, etc. They also bring home a “Daily Folder” which contains a behavior chart and some of the lessons, activities, drawings, etc that they have done that day. These folders are a great way of knowing what is going on in school/class.

  13. Laura says

    I talk about my day – one good thing that happened and one bad thing also. My son likes hearing that I have bad days too.
    Reading the newsletter and volunteering in the class also helps. You can ask more direct questions.
    Although it is hard, I ask more questions over dinner rather than when I pick him up from school. It allows him to decompress.

  14. Lauren says

    How about… don’t take “nothing” for an answer. My MIL to this day is famous for “20 questions” — anything you do, she wants to know the nitty gritty details. This might sound annoying, but in reality, it shows you how much she is interested in your life and what goes on. Her favorite jump-start question is, “What would you give X, on a scale of 1 to 10.” For example, the movie, your day, baseball practice, etc. Then, she goes from there — “Only a 4? Terrible! What happened?” “A 9? Hey, that’s great! What made it so good?” Works really well. :-)

  15. Jennifer says

    My kids are 5 and 7, and won’t tell us anything until supper time. That’s when my husband and I talk about our days, and the kids don’t want to be left out of the conversation! I’ve been learning a lot more about their days since I stopped asking directly.

  16. says

    My daughter’s only in kindergarten, so I’m lucky I have a small domain to work with. At this age it’s easy to play the stupid parent and ask dumb questions. They love to correct you.

    Wait, I thought you had music on Wednesday?

    No,Daddy, wait, see, Tuesday is music day, on Wednesday we have crafts.

    Oh, so you had crafts today?


    What did you make?

    I made a turkey out of my hand.

  17. Sandy says

    I pretty much do what Julie and Laura suggest. I have always done it since my kid was a couple months old. I would sit in the rocking chair and start telling him about my day as I nursed or rocked him to sleep. Slowly as he learned to speak, I would ask him questions like “What did you do with Chris?” and he would respond with 1-word like ball or slide. Now at 3yo he talks a mile a minute and usually makes up his own stories. But at least he is talking and sometimes he asks if I had a good day, even before I start telling him about it.

  18. Cat says

    Sometimes we play the “3 guesses” game where I make 3 guesses about her day and then my daughter tells me if I’m right or wrong. For example, “I guess that you ate lunch with Zoe and Hannah today.” We’ll also all take turns sharing “happys and sads” at the dinner table. And like other people mentioned, I’ve found that it helps to give my daughter time to decompress after school before asking questions.

  19. says

    We share our day at dinnertime, and everyone (even the two-year-old) has a turn. Dad talks about what he did at work, I tell everyone something interesting that happened at college, then the four-year-old might tell us what kind of painting he did or who said what at lunchtime, and the two-year-old can usually tell us who she played with (even if she makes it up!). It seems to work best for us to wait until dinner, again so the kids have time to decompress and refuel. If I ask my son straight after preschool what he’s been doing, or even his favourite thing from the day I get a non-answer.

  20. Christine says

    How about these:
    *What’s the funniest thing that happened today?
    *What’s the most surprising thing that happened today?
    *Who was the rowdiest kid in your class today?
    *What are the 3 best things that happened today?
    *What’s the stinkiest thing that happened today?

  21. says

    Sometimes a good way to get a kid talking about his day is having a friend along. If I pick up just my kid from school/practice, it’s almost impossible to get a word out of him, but if I have two of them in the car, they can’t stop talking!

  22. says

    When I was in college, my roommates and I had a dinner-time tradition. We would go around the table and each person would share 1) the best of the day, 2) the worst of the day, and 3) something she was grateful for. I’ve found even with adults, when I am not sure what to talk about, one of those three questions gives enough to talk about for a few minutes.

  23. says

    I used to start a story “There once was a little boy named (fill in the blank) who lived at (he’d say his address) and when he went to school today he got to (he’d fill in the blanks)” This tradition of making stories about the day could then lead into elaboration. I also found that telling something about my day then asking for something about his, worked well.

  24. hedra says

    Christine is on our planet. I’m gonna have to steal the ‘stinkiest thing’ – ooh, that’s a good one!

    We also wait until dinner time. This is partly because our oldest was very clear about NOT talking about his day. In preschool, he declined to talk about his day, and finally after I pestered him too much one day, he said, ‘mommy, school is OVER, I don’t want to talk about it after it is OVER.’ His brain just worked that way. We came to a compromise that if he’d tell me something – anything he wanted – before he went to sleep, I’d get a little picture of his day, and he’d be free of being pestered. That worked for quite a while.

    With the others, we’ve generally done the dinnertime rounds – parents included. Typical questions:

    “What was the hardest thing you succeeded at today? (aka ‘what was the most challenging?’ for the older kids)”
    “What was your favorite work?” (Montessori schools)
    “Who was the today?” (Line leader, etc.)
    “What was your favorite part of today?” (Mostly not used, as it comes up ‘recess’ and ‘lunch’ a lot, LOL!)
    “What new thing is out in the class?” (they cycle new materials/work in, so there’s usually something new.)
    “What made you saddest today?”
    “What made you laugh today?”
    (those last two we tend to forget to do, but they’re illuminating when there’s social development going on… usually friend-related.)

    Cycle through them – we only do one per day at most. And having the grownups ‘play’ helps it feel less like a ‘report on yourself’ and more like ‘sharing’.

  25. hedra says

    dang, forgot that angle brackets vanish. It should have been:

    “Who was the _insert classroom role here_ today?”

  26. Rich says

    we start our dinner conversation by having mom dad and sons tell what the best part of their day was that day.

  27. Laura says

    I read an idea once that works for me: ask What did [insert teacher’s name] do today? For some reason that works better than asking my daughter what she did.

  28. Jessica says

    Sometimes my daughter and I play school when she gets home. She gets to be the teacher and I’m the student. We almost always learn the same things she learned in school that day and the way she talks to me (and other imaginary students) often mirrors how her teacher explains things to the class or what is going on in the classroom.

  29. says

    We play a game around the dinner table to share about our days. You’ve heard of it: Two Truths and a Lie. Share two things that really happened and one that didn’t. Not only does this encourage everyone to share more, it helps listeners to be more attentive as well.