The Question I Ask to *Actually* Get My 6-Year-Old to Talk About His Day

You'd be surprised

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Recently, on a school outing with my son’s classmates, I struck up a conversation with another parent about kindergarten social dynamics. How, as our children’s grade school trajectories begin, we’re feeling a bit more cut off from the ins and outs of our kid’s day to day—i.e. who’s friends with who, but also our child’s social personalities as they navigate relationships away from us. The mom I was chatting with agreed that gleaning details about the day from our six-year-olds was an uphill battle with the exception of a single kid-friendly ice breaker: Recess.

At school pick-up, I’ve tried a range of conversation starters to get my son to open up about his day: How was choice time? What did you learn in math? Anything silly happen at lunch? Most of the time, the aforementioned questions go ignored, but if I ask about recess (“What games did you play?” or “What was the best thing that happened at recess?”), his eyes light up.

In fact, we’ve spent close to the entire walk home from school (we live in Brooklyn and walk a full mile) with him gushing about everything that went down in the 20-ish outdoor minutes he has with friends before the supervising teacher’s whistle blows. (“We played pirates and I was a fire-breathing dragon, but then so-and-so tripped and fell and so we had to run to the teacher and…” you get the idea.) The mom I chatted with felt the same: She shared how recess helped her decode who her daughter was friends with, but also have bigger conversations about what was going through her mind on days she opted to play alone.

It made me curious about recess in general—why is it such a conversation gateway? The truth is that it’s quite similar to our grown-up social interactions. In other words, it’s much more fun to discuss friend-related experiences than answering standard questions about routine activities and what they learned in school. (Just like how you’d rather tell your partner all about who said what at the company happy hour, rather than going over the details of your PowerPoint presentation.) “Kids enjoy talking about their friends, the games they play, and challenges that might have occurred out on the playground,” says Ashley Lee, Principal of Stratford Schools Milpitas Beresford Square campus. And because it’s time that relies on social interactions—positive or negative—it also tends to be more memorable (so a lot easier to rattle off details to an inquisitive parent).

There’s also a reason that a lot goes down on the playground: The benefits of recess are actually quite vast. Per Lee, “Recess is a critical part of development for elementary-aged children because it promotes social interactions, problem solving, sharing, turn-taking and more.” Physical health is certainly a part of it, too, but it’s that brain break before returning to the classroom that is so instrumental to success.

No wonder our kids have lots to share on this topic.

Ask a Child Psychologist: Does My Kid Have Enough Friends?

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Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...