Conversation is about linking arms and making sense of our worlds together. Lively interactions with friends or family about some experience or event allow us to celebrate what might become larger than a personal reflection that merely flashes into our minds and then is gone. Thoughtful discussions about books, movies, cultural performances and even just our daily realities create enduring significance in what might otherwise have been mildly pleasant “down time” or mundane routine.
Unfortunately, delightful discussions among family members and in classrooms about shared experiences are rare it seems. Even more rare are conversations that start with open-ended questions which invite reflection and connection.
Too often, conversations (which don’t last very long, by the way) begin with typical dull “ask and answer” questions that school-aged children will anticipate are calling for single correct answers, like: “Who was the main character of the book you just read?”
Basically, I’d avoid all adult-directed “What just happened?” debriefings for which kids know that we already know the outcomes. Instead, aim for interchanges that spark an inquiry about what a book, event, or activity meant to a child, personally. Rich conversation about any experience, real or vicarious, should initiate sparkling personal connections and new growth opportunities.
If a family or class is not having conversation about issues and ideas that capture the imaginations of children in some way, then time spent (dare I say “wasted”?) on the as-usual ways of just talking might eventually damage kids’ enthusiasm for books or performances or new activities and the wonders that lie within them.
So, how might a parent or teacher initiate a positive and memorable media experience? I suggest straight forward questions about what kinds of ideas and interests the experience has planted (or even sprouted!) in the children’s minds:
- What are you wondering?
- What would you like to happen next?
- From today’s time together, what have you learned that changes how you view (this book, topic, medium, or character)?
- What things came to mind about your own life, today?
- What did the book (or performance) do for you that makes you want more of it?
Conversation about shared experiences can develop children’s closeness with others and deepen everyone’s natural reflections about themselves and their lives.
If parents and teachers ask great questions while kids are learning to appreciate books, art, literature, and more, then kids will ask themselves and others great questions when they become independent consumers of any medium.