Questions & conversations with kids: helping them understand the world around them


Arriving home I used to ask my sons, “What did you do at school today?”

Their inevitable answer, “Nothing.”

As a parent, I hate nothing. Nothing makes me mad.

“Really, nothing? Nothing at all?” I would respond, getting increasingly frustrated.

“Yeah, nothing.”

The more I would push, the less I would get.

My kids would get exasperated, “Really, Dad, it was a boring day, nothing happened. Nothing at all. It was exactly the same as every day.”

Eventually, I learned the secret is context. Now, instead of asking generally about school, I ask, “Was [REDACTED] mean to you at lunch today?” Knowing they’re studying weather, I ask, “Did you learn anything about clouds today?” About writing, I ask, “How did your story about the octopus end?”

Context changes everything. The more context, the better our conversation. No more “nothings.”

I also learned, the quieter and more intimate the setting, the better the conversation. If I ask at dinner, I might get a 40% answer. At bedtime in the dark, I get a 100% answer. So, my simple formula for conversation with my kids is context x intimacy = conversation.

At Tinybop, we see creating context as our job. Mobile phones and tablets are amazingly intimate devices for kids. Kids nestle up with them. In order to use them, they need a certain amount of quiet. The intimacy is built in. But fill your device with games about zombies and suddenly, you’ll find your kids will have all sorts of opinions about zombies. I’m not knocking zombies, but our hope is to provide a springboard for other types of conversations.

Our forthcoming app, Simple Machines, will be the fourth in our Explorer’s Library series. In this series, we’ve given kids context for thinking about how their bodies work, how plants flourish in different biomes, and how people live around the world. Next, we’ll be giving them context for how simple machines work.

Simple machines are all around us but they’re surprisingly difficult to comprehend, even for adults. In the app, kids can experiment with six machines in virtual playgrounds that reveal the invisible forces behind them in a way that physical toys can’t. We hope the app will help kids recognize simple machines in the world around them, and spark an understanding of how they work.

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