What did you learn today?

A typical afternoon around here usually looks like this…

The boys get off the bus and come bounding down the hill to the house.  They barely make it through the door before they begin dropping coats and back packs and then head straight for the snack of the afternoon.  I barely get a “hey Mom” as they scarf down the food, climb onto the counter to grab a cup from the cabinet that is too high for them to reach from the ground, which they will then fill with water or milk of which they will spill half onto the floor on their way from the kitchen to the table where they throw open their books and make a half-hearted attempt to do their homework while discussing which fun activity will take place first when they are finished.

Somewhere in there I usually throw in a “Hi there!  How was school today?”.  With crumbs flying left and right and a back-handed wipe to the corner of their mouths to remove the dribbling milk, they spit out a “good”.   I make an attempt at getting a little information with the pretty basic “So, what did you do today?” and everyday, without fail, the answer is always the same and in unison…”nothing”.

Nothing?!  Really??!  What I want to say is “You left the house a little over seven hours ago and nothing at all interesting has happened to you in that time?” but instead I say, “Hmmm, did you learn anything new?” and again, in unison, they reply “no”. 

I think to myself…how is this possible?  I know the American public education system could use some work but we live in a pretty good school district and I’ve met their teachers, they seem like well-educated folks that could probably muster an interesting fact every once in a while.  How is it that neither of my children can come up with one new thing they’ve learned in school on any given day of the week?

This is something that has gotten under my skin since my oldest started school a few years ago.  I’ve tried all sorts of different ways to extract information and on a few occasions I’ve actually gotten the goods but, way more often than not, I get the standard “no, nothing” answers…until yesterday.

Diane Sawyer

Image by asterix611 via Flickr

I watched an interview with Diane Sawyer (on the new OWN network – yes, I’m embarrassed to say but we can talk about that another time) and she talked about someone she knew at one time who said that he never asked his kids the standard “How was school today” questions, instead he asked them “Did you ask any good questions in school today?” 

WOW!  What an awesome question.  I had my very own Oprah A-ha moment.  I couldn’t wait to give it a try when the kids got off the bus yesterday.  So, as I heard the squeal of the bus’ tires and the sounds of the boys chasing each other down the hill, I readied myself by the snack cabinet in the kitchen.  Here’s what happened…

The boys busted through the front door and almost knocked me down as they dropped their coats, shoes and bags.  I think I actually did one of those cartoon spins in a cloud of dust when they ran by to grab their snack.  Then I said “Hi boys, how was your day?” to which they responded “good.”  Then I asked the new question I had learned just a little while before…

“So…did you ask any good questions in school today?” 

SCREEEECH!

“Huh?” asks my oldest, a 4th grader, with a granola bar hanging half out of his mouth.  I repeated my question “Did you ask any good questions in school today?”  He looked to be very thrown off by this new dialogue but then it seemed as if he actually began thinking of an answer.  “Ummmm…yea, I did.”

Ok, I must tread lightly here.  I appear to have him sniffing at the bait but I don’t want to scare him off so, very nonchalantly, I say “Really, what did you ask?”  Then he proceeded to spend the next ten minutes telling me about the STEM fair, what it’s all about, what he is thinking of doing and the question he asked, which was “Should our experiments be about something that would be useful in real life?”.

AMAZING!  Not the question, although I did think it was a pretty good one, but that I had actually spent a pretty good chunk of time finding out about his day at school, I didn’t have to dig and dig to get an answer and he was happy to be telling me all about it. 

The real test was going to be my 1st grader.  He is a man of few words unless it has something to do with the Army or Star Wars.  So, I tried my question on him.  He looked at me and said “Yup, I asked if we could use markers on that.” I did a little probing and found out that “that” was a writing assignment they were working on in class and that the answer was, indeed, yes, they could use markers on “that”.

I was completely amazed that this new question was working so well but I was not entirely convinced.  It was only one day after all.  So, I gave it a try again today during dinner.  The whole family was gathered around the table enjoying their home-made chicken noodle soup and I did it, I just threw it out there… “So, did you ask any great questions in school today?”.  My husband looked at me with one eyebrow raised, wondering what I was up to.  I hadn’t mentioned to him the conversations from the day before or the Diane Sawyer interview I had seen.

No sooner did I have the question out of my mouth before my younger son said, “Can I go first?”  then my oldest said “Oooohhh, I want to go first, mine was really good.”

Was this for real?  Were my boys now actually fighting over which one of them was going to tell us about their day?

We settled the who will go first dilemma and then heard all about both of their questions, why they were asked, what the answers were and anything else they wanted to tell us.  It was fantastic and I have decided that I will continue to ask them the same question everyday and hope that they remain as excited to share with me the questions as I will be to hear all about them.  And who knows, maybe this will encourage them to think about and ask some really great questions in school.

Thanks Diane Sawyer…it looks like I asked a really great question today!

3D Character and Question Mark

Image by 姒儿喵喵 via Flickr

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5 Responses to What did you learn today?

  1. Laurie says:

    What a great question?

  2. Michele says:

    I will have to try this one. I always get the standard “good” or “nothing” answer as well. The only time I can get them started on the happenings of the day is when I ask “So did anyone in your class get in trouble today?” They are always willing to share the dirt on that and then I get the conversation ball rolling.

  3. Greetings! I have been M.I.A. for a while and stopped by to check on your blog. This is such great info because my son and I seem to be in an after-school-convo-rut. I will try it today!!

  4. barefootlisa says:

    Jen!!! how in the heck are you?!!! I was just looking thru my blog this evening and I saw one of your comments on my ‘about me’ page from long ago. And I thought of you! So good to see you are still writing — and with the savvy, straight-forward talk that is yours! My son is only 5 and I already get some typical “boy talk” — “Huh?” and no reply/silence. Oh my! Ok so I have to visit more often! See you soon! Lisa

  5. tatiana says:

    поучительно!большое спасибо за совет!!!

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