Beyond ‘Good’ and ‘Nothing’

August 27, 2012 by - Leave your thoughts

Beyond 'Good' and 'Nothing'
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“How was school?” (Good) “What did you do?” (Nothing)

This scenario plays out in many cars and kitchens in the after school hours and it can be hard to know who is more frustrated: the kids for being asked or the parents for not getting satisfactory answers. And still, we repeat the process day after day. Of course, we want to know the fine details of what happened and how our children felt, but in some cases, we’d settle for ANY school-related conversation at all.

I’ll be the first to admit that it took me way too long to get the hang of how to get information about my children’s school days, and it seemed like just when I did, pow! They were pre-teens and then teenagers. New rule book.

Here are some ‘lessons learned’ along the way about those afterschool conversations and some suggestions for parents of the kids on your caseloads who use AAC.

General Thoughts

  1. Remember, they can only tell you what they can tell you. Be thoughtful about how you ask. If they don’t have the means to answer a certain question, they can’t possibly respond and you’ll both be frustrated.
  2. Visual Schedule: If the child uses one for structuring daily activities, put an ‘afterschool conversation’ or ‘school talk’ activity into the routine for afternoon or evening. Setting an expectation for this kind of conversation and making it part of the routine helps to give the child a lot of practice.
  3. We tend to like things that we’re good at. Sometimes, kids resist these conversations because they are difficult. Do what you can to make it easier.
  4. Use visual supports. A visual representation of things to talk about or a copy of their daily schedule at school can help jog a tired child’s memory.
  5. Model. Tell a little about your day. Give it the sound and feel of what you hope to get eventually from the child (e.g., chronological order; something novel; one good thing).
  6. Rating scales work well for many children. You can see some that we use here (mouse over the bottom part to print, save, or download).

Beginning Communicators

  1. Make sure that they have the appropriate vocabulary within their AAC systems.
  2. Use aided language input as you speak.
  3. Use visual supports, such as a replica of their school schedule or pictures of teachers and classmates, as you speak.
  4. Try asking forced choice questions (e.g., “Did you have art or music today?” “Did you see Lissa or Robert?”). It helps if you know the right answers so that you can model the correct response if the child gets it wrong.
  5. For very beginners, try questions of affirmation along with the appropriate visual support. E.g., show picture of teacher; “Ms.Humphrey. Did you see Ms. Humphrey?” show symbol for recess; “Recess. Did you have recess?”
  6. If the child doesn’t respond after a 10 second pause, model the correct answer and help the child do it, too. “Yes. Mrs. Humphrey. You saw. Ms. Humphrey.” “Art. You had art today.”
  7. If the children use AAC systems that are rich in core language, this is a good time to practice. It’s a little tricky, but with practice you can get into the habit of framing the question so that they always have a means of responding using core words. Later this week, we’ll post a PDF of suggestions for core language conversations.
  8. Try using a script that has predictability and structure. Plan a conversation that has 2 turns for each of you and develop a script with appropriate visual supports. For example:

Forced choice

Parent: “Who was your lunch buddy, ___ or ___ ?”

Child: “___” (with AAC)

Parent: “Was it fun or not fun?”

Child: “Fun” (with AAC)


Parent: “Story Circle. Did you have Story Circle today?”

Child: “Yes” (with AAC)

Parent: “Special letter. Did you see the special letter?”

Child: “Yes” (with AAC)

Kids with Fairly Robust Language Skills

  1. Try comments rather than questions
    1. About something they did or handed in: “I bet your teacher noticed the practice you did with your math facts.” “I was thinking about you and your spelling quiz today.”
    2. About something you observed: “That looks like a lot of books to lug home.” “It looked like Maya had a birthday hat when she came out.” “You look pretty worn out.” “Mrs. Ward seemed to be rushed this morning.”
  2. Preview the conversation. Give them some time to prepare mentally.Use a visual schedule. For kids that do well with structure, put an ‘Afterschool Conversation’ in the schedule for the afternoon or evening. Keep the conversation short and easy at first, then build from there.
    1. “Later on, I’d like to hear about….” “When you get a chance, fill me in on….” “After you change, let’s talk about…” “At snack, I want you to tell me 2 things about…”
  3. Make a prediction. “I bet you were glad that ….” “Maybe you’ll have a sub tomorrow.” “I wonder if Mr. Marlow will do Recess Warriors this week.”
  4. Be wrong. Say something plausible that you know is likely to be incorrect. For some kids, nothing is more motivating than the chance to correct an adult.
  5. Ask specific questions. Here are some good suggestions from iMOM (and downloadable PDFs)

After school conversations are about sharing things that happened in a different place and time. It’s a bit abstract and can be challenging. We don’t give our kids a lot of practice talking in the past tense, and it may not be very meaningful to them at first. Repetition is the key.

Manage your expectations because this takes some time. But eventually, you’ll get beyond “Good” and “Nothing.”

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This post was written by Carole Zangari

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