Every day, when my kids come home from school, I give them a hug and ask them how their day was. I mean, as a parent, your kid wants you to know what's going on in their life, right? Well, yes, but when I ask something as broad as, "How was your day?" I always get a one word response in return. "Good." "Bad." "Fine." When I attempt to get more information, my son prefers to demure, telling me, "It's difficult to explain." My daughter, on the other hand, just makes a dramatic whining noise and tells me she's tired. Thanks, guys.
While I'll probably never hear everything that goes on during their day, I do eventually get a lot of information about the comings and goings of their school lives. Believe it or not, kids actually want to tell us things! Us parents just don't always know how to ask the right questions.
If you think about it, it makes sense: what do you remember from elementary school? Do you remember specific lessons or do you remember how it felt to be that age? Yes, you absorbed everything you needed to learn to move forward in your education (although, I must admit that fractions still confuse me), but what you probably most remember is the social interactions you had with your peers and the relationship you had with your teacher and the out-of-the-ordinary events and games you threw yourself into at recess.
Our kids want to tell us about their day, it's just that what they want to discuss may not sync up with what we're asking to hear. Sort of like when we want to try to gauge how they're feeling emotionally and they want to talk about what Pokémon cards they have.
But the truth is that the stuff we see as secondary or unimportant is important, both because it's important to our kids and that it informs the academic experience. It also gives us an "in" to ask more questions and get a fuller picture of what they're doing in their education. So, with that in mind, here's what our kids really want to talk to us about at the end of their day:
Kids learn through play. In fact, a 2007 study published in Pediatrics found that while playing children are "developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength," and that play is part of healthy brain development. Plus they, you know, like playing. It's basically their only area of expertise at this point.
So your kid is probably itching to tell you how fast they ran or what game they invented or which superhero they got to be in their game of make-believe or how their friend Brayden wasn't very nice to them. What they're learning on the playground at this age is important, too.
Who They Want To Play With After School
If your kids are like my daughter, the first thing they'll tell you when they get home at the end of the day is often something like, "Alma is having a big cookie party tonight and we have to get ready NOW!"
You don't know who Alma or her parents are, much less where they live and how to get in touch with them. You're also fairly certain there's probably no big cookie party happening on a Tuesday night (but go ahead and try telling my kid that).
There's a decent chance you'll be bombarded with play date requests, so many you couldn't possibly make all of them. But pay attention to the repeat names and see what you can do.
Most of the time, when I'm talking to my kids about their favorite subject at school, I'll hear all about a "special," i.e. art, music, gym, or library.
Rather than ask how school was in general, ask about a specific class. For us, I ask my kids, "What special did you have today and what did you do?" My kids are far more likely to open up about the shenanigans of gym class than to give me a run down of how school was.
The 'Game Of Thrones'-Like Friend Politics & Gossip
While it's a common belief that friend drama begins in high school or maybe middle school, I'm going to tell you here and now that, while it may not be as dire, it absolutely starts far earlier than that. Who's on the friend list this week? Who isn't? Who's lost interest in whom? Who was misbehaving in the cafeteria today? Who was talking during reading time? Who's the best-best friend and who's merely the best friend?Oh yeah, if you ask the right questions you're going to hear it all.
Your kid is like the IRL Varys, gathering information to use to their own ends in due time... for the good of the realm.
They seem to have a handle on it and will talk with you about it all, if you can keep up.
When Someone Farted
Name a kid who doesn't think farts are funny. You can't do it. No one can. And rest assured if someone audibly farted you will hear about it.
The Exploits Of Their One Fabulist Friend
In my experience, every kid has at least one friend who whose imagination is more, shall we say, active than average.
"Guess what! My friend Logan told me he has a diamond worth $1,000,000!"
"Guess what! My friend Logan is going to meet Ryan from YouTube!"
"Guess what! My friend Logan won the karate world championships yesterday after school because he's a quadruple black belt."
If you ever cast doubt on the other kid's stories your child will turn on you, because how dare you question their awesome friend Logan, you heretic. You apostate!
They are the same ones you heard when you were a kid and went crying to your parents about and now the tables have turned and you have to assure them that Bloody Mary isn't real. (Maybe. I mean, she probably isn't, but make no mistake I still won't say her name three times in a mirror because I'm not dumb.)
This will probably happen right after you tucked them in, and now that they're in the dark they remember what that older kid on the bus told them and, of course, now they're freaking out. Thanks, older kid. A pox on your house.
Again, it's the same stuff you picked up on the playground but now it's up to you to look scandalized. This is also when you realize that even though your parents looked upset at the time, they absolutely laughed about it after your back was turned because OMG.
If They Got To Watch A Video At *Any* Point
Just as all kids find farts funny, all kids get really excited if they get to watch a video or clip in class and will want to let you know all about it.
I don't know how my kid is learning how to read or what math she's doing. But you better believe I know she got to watch a clip of Curious George the other day, which may seem sort of irrelevant. Sure, it seems a little irrelevant, but I know that if I can do some detective work and figure out what the clip was about (counting? shapes? nature?) I will be able to get some idea of what she's learning in class.
The Prizes They Can Win If They Sell Enough Wrapping Paper For The Latest PTA Fundraiser
*deep groan that comes from the depths of my soul*
I understand that fundraisers are important and that the PTA does tremendous and important work for the school. I get it, people. But OMG, please, just bring it up with me and don't try to coax my kid into it. Because they think "they're" going to win a new bike and the truth is that I cannot possibly sell the $500 worth of stuff required to win said bike for them and this is just going to end in tears.
But, apparently, those folks know what they're doing because your kid will tell you all about the various and wonderful ways their life will change... thanks to this fundraiser.
Who doesn't enjoy an opportunity to sit on the floor of a gym and do something different from time to time, right? If animals were involved this is all they will talk about for the next 15 years of their life.
Specific New Facts
You won't hear about standard, daily lesson plans, like, "Today we practiced drawing the letter A," but you will hear random fun facts they found in a library books. For example, on the way home your child might say, "Did you know that regal horned lizards can shoot blood out of their eyes to defend themselves?"
And at first you don't believe it, but then you Google it and it's like, "Well damn. I learned something today."
Kids are full of this sort of information. And, yes, it's usually going to be something gross.
They Missed You
Even if they don't say it, it's true.
At least, that's what I'm telling myself, because I sure as you-know-what missed them.