When parents ask the well-meaning question ‘What did you do at school today?’ the usual response from children of all ages is a swift – almost instinctual – ‘Nothing…’ which typically kills the conversation before it has even started! Parents are left scratching their heads. ‘Nothing? Really?

We all know this isn’t true. School days are packed with new, fun learning experiences. With children, the answer lies in the actual question. Next time, try saying to your child ‘What did you learn today? This is much more specific and the response is sure to be different. Try it!

Here are other things to say to your child that will make all the difference…

Say encouraging things to your child as often as you can when your child is beginning to learn something new and keep encouraging them

Remember how much encouragement you offered your child when they took their first wobbly steps? Children need that same encouragement whenever they are learning something new. Learning is always harder at the beginning.

Say things to your child to show that you can see improvement in what they are learning, however small. Compare ‘then’ and ‘now’ and praise the difference.

Learning is about getting better; made up of lots of ‘getting better’ steps.

Say to your child: ‘Of course you’ve made a mistake, but keep going, you’re learning’

Children need to know that making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process. We can learn from mistakes. Mistakes are OK.

Say to your child the word ‘yet’ as often as you can.

When your child says ‘I can’t do decimals’, follow through by saying, ‘You can’t do decimals yet’. Help your child to see the possibility that they will be able to achieve something in the future.

Say to your child: ‘Take a break, do some exercise, then start learning again’

The learning brain needs blood, oxygen and rest to keep going. Regular mental breaks with physical activity supports learning. Extended study can undermine learning.

Say to your child: ‘I found X easy to learn, but I had to work harder at Y’

Make sure your child knows that you experienced the same learning struggles as they may be going through. Don’t pretend to have been excellent at everything. Equally, don’t stress your inabilities either – unless you are promoting how much better you could have been if only you’d kept trying!

And finally…

Your child will be learning knowledge (facts); skills (how to do things) and understanding (a sense of meaning behind what we know and how we do things: a combination of accumulated knowledge, practiced skills and reflection).

When your child says they’ve learned some facts at school, say ‘Wow. Tell me what you know about that.’

When your child says they have learned to do something in school, say ‘Wow. Show me how to do that.’

When your child says they now understand something, say ‘Wow. Talk to me about that.’

By asking these questions you will support your child in deepening and developing their learning. You will also see that they have not spent their time doing nothing at school..!