Creating Learning Opportunities with Our Children

Occasionally, on Facebook, I come across some pretty interesting articles shared by parents and educators. A few weeks ago, I came across one titled, “25 Questions to Ask Your Kid after School.” Willing to give it a try, that night I asked one of my boys, “What was the funniest thing that happened today?” He paused in what he was doing, looked at me, and said, “Huh, that’s a good one. Let me think about it.” This led not only to a great conversation, but he in turn asked me, and we shared some pretty funny stories. Often, I ask the fairly typical parent questions, including the completely unoriginal and certainly not open-ended one, How was your day?  And, not surprisingly, some days that question results in only a vague sort of grunt. In all fairness, after a long day, filled with so many different experiences and interactions, I don’t always have a good answer for that question either. But if someone asked me, “What made you really proud today?” I might be more inclined to pause and think.

At Glen Urquhart, one of the things we do well is create learning opportunities that compel our students to think and ask questions. To “pose questions as often as they devise solutions” is part of the school’s mission. These meaningful opportunities, grounded in best practice and an understanding of child development, foster true understanding. And true understanding is the foundation of lifelong learning. Over the course of this academic year, we have been looking carefully at our language arts program. During a series of four faculty meetings, including full-length professional days, each pair of lower school co-teachers and the upper school  language arts teachers presented an overview of their reading and writing curriculum. As is true of any good learning opportunity, these presentations generated a number of questions.   

  • How do we ensure that we are aligned vertically so we are building on the work of previous teachers without duplication or inconsistency?

  • How do we build a love of reading? How and why do kids abandon a book?

  • How do we continue to teach with a multicultural lens while paying careful attention to appropriate content and perspective at each grade level?

  • How and when should we teach cursive? Keyboarding? What happened to outlining sentences?

Every instructional decision we make comes from what we know about our students combined with our experience as educators. Rooting our work in best practice and research is essential, but to meet the needs of our students, year to year, we must be open to and willing to ask questions. When we ask questions of one another and answer the questions put to us, we can better examine the decisions we have made and will make. The questions we ask ourselves and our ability to truly question our practice leads us to stronger pedagogy and forces us to be authentic and flexible. Real, authentic questions can shake us up a bit, but when asked in a learning environment such as GUS, they can be exciting and rewarding. The questions we ask reflect the learning community we are in, and the community we hope to build for our students.

I share this example because asking our students questions can produce the same results. We want our students to think deeply. We want GUS graduates to leave here, not only with many questions answered, but with more questions to ask. Before I started writing this piece, I did some reading and came upon a blog with the title: “Why do kids ask so many questions—and why do they stop?” Linked to the phenomenon called the Creativity Crisis (Newsweek), the blog shared that “Kids—who start off asking endless ‘why’ and ‘what if’ questions—gradually ask fewer and fewer of them as they progress through grade school.” The article goes on to discuss this decrease. “Preschool kids ask their parents an average of 100 questions a day. By middle school, they’ve basically stopped asking questions. Around this time . . . student motivation and engagement plummets. Which raises an interesting question: Have the kids stopped asking questions because they’ve lost interest? Or have they lost interest because the rote answers-driven school system doesn’t allow them to ask enough questions?”

I have a vivid memory of driving in the car with my younger son, then probably around four or five, while he pummeled me with questions. We had just left the pediatrician’s office, and he was not too happy about having received a shot. So, the questions began: Why do I have to get shots? What’s in the shot? Does the doctor get a shot? Who gives her a shot? Do I need a shot next time? What about the next time? On, and on, and on it went. I finally turned around and said to him, “Can you please stop the questions? Can you please stop talking just for five minutes?” I must say, I would go back to those days of questions in a heartbeat.

The questions our kids ask give us a window into their minds and hearts. Listen carefully to what they say. And do not be afraid to be the one asking the questions. Again and again and again. 

25 Questions to Ask Your Kid after School:

  • Who did you sit next to today?

  • What was the funniest thing that happened?

  • What’s something you learned today that you didn’t know yesterday?

  • Who fell over and what happened?

  • What’s something a friend taught you today?

  • What could you teach a friend?

  • What was the hardest thing you did today?

  • What was the best bit about lunch time?

  • What was one thing someone did that made you feel happy?

  • Who would you like to be friends with and what’s your plan for getting to know them?

  • What was something surprising a friend or teacher said today?

  • What do you want to learn to do and why?

  • Have you got a nickname at school and how did you get it?

  • What would be your perfect school day?

  • What would be a great job when you grow up and why?

  • What’s something you’ve always wanted to ask me about school?

  • What book did your teacher read you today?

  • What’s the best thing about your classroom or teacher?

  • Can you tell me a word you’ve learned and see if I know it?

  • If you had two school wishes, what would they be?

  • What made you really proud today?

  • If you could switch places with one friend for a day, who would it be and why?

  • What subject do you wish you had at school and why?

  • If you were the teacher for a day, what would you do?

  • How was school today? (Just to see if they still answer, “Good.”)

Sarah Kotwicki

Director of Lower School

Sarah Kotwicki