“What Did You Learn Today?” Encouraging Dialogue

Compiled By Ms. Aja

A million things, great and small, have happened since your child came to school, so when you ask “What happened today?” they may be overwhelmed.

As a parent, you must feel frustrated when you ask your child what they did at school today and they reply “nothing.” As a Montessori teacher, I’m even more frustrated when I hear my students give that same response to their parents. I want to say “What do you mean you did nothing? We worked like crazy all day long!” Parents come to the teachers asking what their child was doing all day in the Montessori classroom because they can’t get them to share their own experiences at home.

Let’s analyze both the question and the responses. First, when we ask our spouse or our friends “How was your day”? They respond with “fine” or “ OK,” and elaborate as they feel the need.

On the other hand, children need more direct questioning. They are developing the art of communication, and therefore need to be guided through the process. Let’s start asking questions that require more than one word answers.

What was the worst/best part of your day?

Children often reply that they did nothing all day because they are so busy ‘learning and doing,’ they don’t realize that what they are ‘doing’ is important. After all, Maria Montessori said that “play is the work of the child.” It is only natural then, that they feel that they are working and doing their jobs. Learning that “M” sounds like “mmmm” as in mouse, mat, mug, match, and muffin or learning that the square root of 36 is 6 is just what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s not momentous enough to them to attach daily significance of good or bad.

Asking your child what the worst and best part of their day was makes them stop and reflect back and analyze their day. Maybe the best part was being the line leader or getting a lesson on the Africa map and Land and Water forms. Maybe the worst part of their day was not having Spanish, or spilling their water at lunch time. Whatever it was, surely it was important enough to make an impact. As Montessori parents and teachers, we need to use active listening skills and respond in a way to encourage more conversation. Here is an example:

Mom: “What was the best part of your day?”

Child: “When I dropped the addition tile box.”

Mom: “When you dropped the tile box? How was that the best part of your day?”

Child: “Well, because Suzie came over and helped me pick up all the tiles and put them back in the box. Afterward, she helped me roll my mat and asked if I wanted to work on some science together. We had a lot of fun and we sat beside each other at lunch.”

Mom: “It must have felt nice working with Suzie. I’m glad to see you are making new friends.”

From the parent’s perspective, dropping the tile box and having to pick up all the pieces does not sound like the best part of any day. However, from the child’s point of view, it was the catalyst that started a series of positive events.

This is a good thing to do at the dinner table. As you’re eating, go around the table and each family member can tell the worst and best parts of their day. If you ask for the worst parts first, then you can end on a positive note.

What did you learn today?

“Can you tell me three things you learned today?” is a simplistic question, but requires a complex mental process to answer it. The metacognition to recall three things learned out of all the many other happenings during the day is difficult. It requires thinking back to lessons and extracting exact information.

With younger children, you may decide to ask them to tell you one thing. Or ask more specifically, “What did you learn in Geography today?” Not only does this focus your child on what they learned in school, but it shows them that you are taking an active role in their learning and education.

To find out exactly what happened in your child’s Montessori classroom, ask direct, rather than vague questions. You’ll soon find out that your child is really doing a lot of work, and you’ll be pleased with the increased communication between the two of you.