“Did Mika eat his lunch today?”
“Was Johnny mean to his friends again?”
“Did Anna take a nap?”
I used to be a preschool teacher. Those were the types of questions that I answered every day when parents came to pick up their little ones. Of course, I was glad to answer any question that came my way. There was always one question I wished parents would ask me, though, that I rarely ever heard. I wanted them to ask me what I did with their child that day.
It always seemed that parents were in such a rush to pick up their kids, grab their belongings, and head back home. I get it because I’m a parent too. The hustle and bustle of the preschool pick-up was intense and chaotic for everyone. Still, I wanted parents to know everything we did that day and what their child accomplished.
You know, all the good, meaningful stuff. The stuff that really matters.
I wanted them to know that Bethany was able to recite her whole alphabet today for the first time without help. I wanted Luke’s dad to know that we talked together about ways he can share with his friends and that he, without my prompting, talked through a conflict with one of his classmates who wanted to play with the blocks he was using. Although no question about someone’s child was ever stupid or meaningless, I always wanted them to want to know more.
Every day, I spent hours implementing my lesson plans for the class and tweaking every activity to the needs of my students. I taught children with behavioral problems, physical disabilities, and “invisible” special needs. The minutes in my class were spent doing everything I could to help each child reach the goals their parents and I created together. I even spent hours at home planning activities for the next day that would motivate my students to keep pushing through their struggles and continue smashing every barrier in their way.
When it came to learning about how close a child was coming to mastering a goal, though, it rarely came up in pick-up conversation unless I sparked it.
Parents are busy beings. They don’t always have time to grab all the details. Still, I was always there, ready and willing to spout off every detail about little Sarah’s day. Whether her mom was ready to listen is another story.
I didn’t want Sarah’s mom to ask me what she did that day to make me seem like some amazing teacher and have her fawn in awe of everything I accomplished with her little girl. That’s far from the truth. The reason I wanted so badly to hear parents ask me important questions about our activities every day was much more simple: little ears are always listening.
Now, Picture This.
Imagine how significant it would be to a four-year-old to hear his mom asking questions that shows a vested interest in him and his accomplishments. A child doesn’t want you to be concerned with whether he had a good or bad day or laid down for his nap. He wants you to know that he learned to tie his shoes. He finally got the courage to stick his hands in finger paint. And, he learned all about why the leaves on the playground trees are changing colors.
Guaranteed, he wants to tell you all about the chemical changes that trigger pigment production in leaves on the car ride home. If he doesn’t think you’re interested enough to listen, though, he probably won’t say a word.
After a few months into my teaching career, I set my focus on curbing this problem. Somehow, I was going to make it a point to let every parent know what I did with their child every single day. I started writing down little prompts on each child’s take-home progress note for parents to ask their kids. I always related the question to something awesome each child did or learned. For example, “Ask Aaliyah, ‘What happens to ice when it gets too warm?’”
What started happening after was exactly what I wanted. My students started coming up to me the next day, saying, “Ms. Amy, I told my mom all about how our ice cubes melted. AND that they made huge puddles of water on our tables!”. That meant that parents were opening the lines of communication that these kids so desperately needed. Even if they weren’t asking me about their child’s day, they were going straight to the source. That’s even better.
Being present is an important part of parenting. A few minutes of your time and well-intentioned questions can go a long way – both for your understanding and your child’s confidence.