If your child is about to have his or her first school experience, a major change is in store for both of you. Up until now, you were a minute-by-minute, integral part of your child’s day. You knew what toys she played with and you knew her playmates. You did not have to rely on your child’s language skills to understand her experiences.
No more! Now, your child’s ability to tell you about her school day will help determine how much you feel a part of it. A child’s day in nursery school is filled with exploration and discovery, making connections about his or her world and learning how to successfully share possessions, ideas, and people. Yet, when asked what she did in school, the answer is most often a simple, “I played.”
This disconnect between the child’s ability to perceive and describe the school day and our desire for colorful details makes it difficult for us to vicariously share the experience. Of course, there are techniques that can improve your chances of having descriptive and satisfying conversations with young children.
Here are some helpful tips for eliciting descriptions – in living color – from preschoolers:
- Children will remember more about specifics if they have their memories triggered. So, look around the classroom when you pick up your child, read any communication that the teachers provide, and use what you see in the environment as a “talking point” to begin a conversation.
- Try starting conversations with, “Tell me more about…” or “I wonder…” rather than, “What…” Open-ended questions invite the child to respond with more details. They also convey a deeper sense of interest and this will encourage the child to share more readily.
- Share stories of your workday by telling about something that made you happy or excited (or if you have a child who looks unhappy, something sad), and ask your child to talk about something from his/her day.
- Talk to your child about the process rather than the finished product of the activity. “I noticed that you have a lot of different colors on your painting, I wonder how you made them?” will encourage more conversation than, “Did you paint today?” This will also help children to use language and will let them know that we notice the effort they put into their work.
- And, probably, the most important of all is to give your child your full attention when talking about the school day. Children are quick to recognize when they aren’t really being listened to. Make eye contact while talking to your child and don’t multitask. Be patient, children need a chance to finish their thoughts before being asked another question.
Keep in mind that, as with adults, temperament matters. Some children are going to be naturally chatty and eager to share while others are not. Enjoy listening to your children talk with their friends…as they get older and conversations become more complex, this is a great way to get a glimpse into their lives away from home.