By PATRICK MCNAMARA
A very trying school year is coming to an end, so it makes sense to review what your kids have learned and how they have experienced the year. Here are some discussion starters to stimulate an informal conversation that will surely result in some pride. Notice that none of these questions can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” If you ask a question that can be answered in one word, that may be the only answer you’ll get.
What school project are you most proud of?
The project doesn’t need to be the one with the best grade or that took the longest. Perhaps it isn’t even academic. Perhaps it was finally mastering that tough piece of music or helping out on a charity event. The idea is to celebrate (and not forget) that, although it was a tough year, it did have some highlights.
What was the best book you read?
Establishing the habit of reading is important and should be celebrated. If they can’t come up with anything, that may be a heads-up that they need to be exposed to a broader range of reading material. Some kids really don’t respond to fiction, but can get excited about history or sports books. Part of your job as a parent is to help your child discover what interests them most. Sometimes just giving them a gift card to a bookstore, and then an hour to find something to purchase, will provide insight into your child’s developing interests.
What stretched your talent and interest the most?
Children don’t always understand that working on something difficult leads to growth, regardless of whether they actually achieved the initial goal. A discussion about what was particularly difficult this year can help them understand that connection.
What’s the most helpful thing you learned from your teacher?
It can be surprising what a student considers “helpful.” It can also be interesting to hear how students judge teachers and why they like or don’t like a given teacher.
What are some examples of skills and facts you know now that you didn’t know in September?
We know that many students didn’t learn all that they should have this year, but almost all of them did move forward in their academic skills, and it is important to help them see that.
What did you learn from your biggest mistake?
Learning from mistakes is an important part of growth, and yet it can be too easy to focus entirely on the mistake and ignore the growth that also occurred. Helping your child identify that growth can help minimize the chances of repeating those mistakes as well as lessen the fear of making them in the first place.
What new friends did you make?
Are your children making new friends? If not, why not?
What surprised you most about this year?
Okay, school was tough this year, but learning in new ways can lead to insight into a student’s learning preferences, challenges and strategies.
Which teacher challenged you most this year?
Getting students to think about their learning process is an important part of academic growth. Recognizing that a teacher who challenges you may very well be the teacher who teaches you the most can be a valuable lesson.
What’s the funniest thing that happened this past year?
Trying to find something positive and humorous from this past academic year might be difficult, but if you can find humor in a painful situation, it is often the best way to get through it. That’s a great life lesson.
It can be helpful to have more than one child as part of some of these conversations. If you are still virtual, consider setting up a Zoom for a small group of friends or classmates, or have an outdoor get together. Make it a game with some kind of compensation for participating.
A small group will feed off one another and is more likely to want to impress. That’s good. It should not feel like another school assignment. These questions might be too advanced for younger students or too many for a “fun activity”, but getting a conversation going about the past year can provide you with new insight into your children learning process, personality and priorities. Some of these questions may be better asked one-on-one, but the important thing is to start the conversation. They’ll get to show off, and you’ll feel proud. Keep the discussion informal, with pizza or some favorite food involved. Listen without too much comment. Follow their lead. Laugh a lot. Make it all about them. Show how impressed you are. Praise lavishly.
Patrick McNamara is the owner and executive director at Sylvan Learning of Albany and Clifton Park. For more information, visit SylvanLearning.com.