There are several factors that can influence a young child’s performance in school. In the mid-1960s, the Coleman Report concluded that the leading indicators for predicting academic success in school were the education of the mother, the socio-economic status of the home, and the strength of the child’s peer group. At the time of the publication, it was presumed that the link to the mother was more about nature and heredity, than about the child’s environment. Since then, scientists have developed a clearer understanding of the brain and its development, resulting in a tipping of the scales towards the belief that “nurturing” holds the cards.

To this end, a parent’s interaction with a child regarding school and education have become more valued. When my mother asked me about my school day, she thought that she was simply being a good parent, demonstrating curiosity and concern. She would not have thought that her actions had any impact on my school success; because back then, science maintained that a child’s intellectual capacity was established at birth. But today, we know better. At least we know better than we did four decades ago.

I know from experience, from both sides of the conversation, that if you ask, “ What did you do today?”, you’ll get nothing. Literally “nothing”. So here are some suggestions that just might elicit a more meaningful response.

With slight wording modifications, these questions can work with children of all ages:

– Tell me about a moment today when you felt excited about what you were learning.

– Tell me about a moment in class when you felt confused.

– Think about what you learned and did in school today. What’s something you’d like to know more about? What’s a question you have that came from your learning today?

– Were there times today when you felt that one of your classmates demonstrated care for you? Tell me about one of these times.

– Tell me about a moment today when you felt proud of yourself.

– Tell me about a conversation you had with a classmate or friend that you enjoyed.

– What was challenging about your day?

– What do you appreciate about your day?

– What did you learn about yourself today?

– Is there anything that you’d like to talk about that I might be able to help you figure out?

– What are you looking forward to tomorrow?

– Is there a question you wish I’d ask you about your day?

– Tell me about a moment when you helped a classmate?

– How did you contribute to the success of your school today?

Of course, there is no guarantee that these questions will produce reflective and engaging dialogue; however, these are certainly more difficult to dodge with “no”.

May the conversations begin!

Keith Nemlich

Feel free to reach me at

(source: Aguilar, Elena. “15 Questions to Replace “How Was School Today?”


Quick bio – BA from Cornell University in the History of Art; MEd from Castleton State College in Curriculum and Instruction; graduate certificate in Educational Technology Integration from Penn State; taught 4th-8th grades for 12 years; technology administrator for 4 years; served on the state of Vermont math committee that wrote the grade-level expectations and was a member of the committee that created the NECAPs; husband to Pam; father to Chris and Megan; father-in-law to Rachel; grandfather to Jayden; loves being at Central!