Parents who struggle to get more than two words out of kids after school should think about the types of questions they ask, a university lecturer says.

Primary programme co-ordinator at the University of Waikato's Te Kura Toi Tangata Faculty of Education, Anthony Fisher, has given his top tips for helping to settle children into the new school year.

And asking, "Did you have a good day?", is not at number one on the list.

Hamilton mother-of-two Katie Barker found that out the hard way with daughter Naia.


"I found the best time to talk to her was before bed. Because I'd be really excited when I picked her up from school and I'd have a hundred questions: 'Oh what did you do today, who did you play with?'.

"She was so overwhelmed by being exhausted - 'I've just had this full day, it's hot, I've got homework to do, I've got a million things I've just done at school and you're asking me all these questions'. So I couldn't get much out of her."

Naia, who turned five in January, gave one or two word answers.

So Barker redirected her approach to bedtimes when she asked Naia what her favourite thing was that she enjoyed that day and why.

"Then we'd talk about 'Who did you play with?'. And then asking her to describe in her words how she was feeling.

"I found that was the best time to talk because she'd had a chance to relax and calm down from the day."

And instead of planting ideas in Naia's mind with certain words and phrases, such as; "Are you nervous about assembly tomorrow?", Barker employed a more discreet tactic by pointing out assembly was happening, stating it would be "cool" and asking what the last one was like.

"If I asked 'Are you nervous or scared of assembly?' she'd be like 'Ooh, should I be worried, should I be scared of all these other kids?'."


For Naia, going from a small kindergarten to a large primary school at the beginning of the school year threw her.

"She's gone from 20 to 30 kids to kids everywhere and that's overwhelmed her on that first day."

Naia, 5, was too tired straight after school to talk about her day to mum Katie Barker, who worked out that just before bedtime was best. Photo / Supplied
Naia, 5, was too tired straight after school to talk about her day to mum Katie Barker, who worked out that just before bedtime was best. Photo / Supplied

Naia cried before school, complained of a sore stomach and wouldn't eat breakfast for the first week.

"She would just say that she was missing me. It was because she was a bit insecure being in this whole new environment, new teacher, new kids, new routine."

Barker, a former physical education teacher, told the little girl many the other children felt the same.

It helped when she explained to Naia she was not the only new kid and that some of her friends from Kindy felt the same way.

The 34-year-old said she reinforced the idea that school would get easier and reminded her eldest child that while she was frightened about first starting Kindy, she grew to love it and school would be the same.

Now a Facebook blogger with the page Happy Busy Kids, Barker shared her experience on social media and received plenty of messages of support and suggestions.

Fisher, a senior lecturer at the university, said his advice was based on his experience as a teacher, principal, and educational psychologist.

"In the first few weeks and ongoing you need to keep talking to your child about school," Fisher said.

"Not saying 'did you have a good day', as you'll just get a nod. It really leads to a yes or no answer."

Fisher said instead of a closed question like that, parents should use open ones.

"Try asking something like what did you learn today, or what made you smile today? How would you rate your day and why? What went well, and what could have gone better? Who did you play with, or who are your new friends?

"It's just building that relationship with children, that it's okay for them to expand on things in that safe relationship."