Let’s talk about talking to children

Let’s talk about talking to children
Jane Madell
September 13, 2022

Infants and children in strollers

The primary thing that concerns me most about cell phones is that they seem to interfere with communicating with children. Walking down the street with a little one in a stroller or in a pack on your body is a wonderful time to talk to them. Talk about what you see, what you hear, where you are going.

Sing a song. Any song. Make one up. Remember, kids do not care if you sing well or not. They don’t know. Take a tune you know (like the melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle”)  and put in words about what you are doing. “We are going to the park, to the park, to the park. We are going to play on the swings, play on the swings, play on the swings.”

I cannot resist singing to children and people comment on how many songs I know. Some are real song and some are songs I made up just to sing. Singing keeps children’s attention builds listening skills. Put your phone down and talk and sing.


Most preschools will let parents know what happened during the day. “We did finger painting, we read this book, we had PB and J for lunch etc” Families can use that information to help children think about what happened in school.

For young ones we can start with “yes-no” questions but want to move to open ended questions as soon as possible. “What book did you read in school today? Who did you play with? Was Robbie in school today? What was your favorite thing to do in school today?” Open ended questions help children develop executive function skills and learn to think. Yes-no questions are easier for grown-ups, not so great for kids.

School age

By school age, we really need to stop asking yes-no questions. We need to ask questions that require children to understand what we are asking and think about the answer. We can start with yes-no like “did you have PE today?” but then move on to more open ended questions. “What did you do in PE? Did you break up into teams? Who decided who was on what team? Who was on your team? Tell me about the game.”

Ask specifics about academics, and about what they are learning. Did they break into small groups? Who was in your group? Who do you like in your class? Why? Etc. If you find that children cannot explain what is happening in class that is a concern and perhaps a signal to follow up with the teacher. And every day, we need to check that the personal technology is working and that the child is hearing well.

We also need to check that the remote mics are working well. It is CRITICAL for listening.

Middle school – high school

By middle school we really need to be sure that children are hearing what is happening in the classroom and learning and understanding. Was personal technology working well?  Was the remote mic working? Who checks it out? Can you hear the teachers easily? What did you do in global studies today? Was it difficult to understand? Do you know why you are studying that? Tell me what you learned?  

You can then try to talk about why people did what they did – why did Columbus cross the ocean? What was he looking for? Did Spain have the right to come and take over part of another country?  At this time it is critical to help children think.

We really need to ask questions and discuss what is happening and why.

Discuss everything

No matter what age a child is we really need to make everything a conversation. We should always expect an answer and move to discussion. Why? What do you think he was thinking?

Read books and talk about what people were feeling, thinking etc. and why they did what they did. You can do this with books for very young children. In Harold and the Purple Crayon (one of my favorites) we can talk about what Harold was thinking when he drew the balloon etc. Was he scared. Do you think drawing a balloon would really make you be able to fly?

The more we talk, the more children think, the more they build their brains, the more they think, the more they learn…

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