We made a lively group at the dinner table that night. My sister and I were staying with a homeschooling family of 10 kids. That made 14 of us at the table, all talking 90 mph. Discussion flew back and forth concerning politics, toy trucks, theology, dolls, sleeping bags, movies and everything else a group from the ages 2-55 could think of. Until Junior caught a word from the adults and asked a question. “What’s a homosexual?”
Wow, that table got quiet. I felt for Junior’s parents, who obviously weren’t ready to answer that. I kept my mouth shut, not sure how much they wanted 10-year-old Junior to know. But the silence grew embarrassingly long and I finally realized they weren’t going to answer the question at all.
Since we were good friends, I knew they wouldn’t mind if I made a comment so I carefully observed, “A homosexual is when a man wants to marry a man or a woman wants to marry a woman. Isn’t that silly? God said it was supposed to be a man and woman that get married.” That was all Junior wanted to know, and conversation soon flowed again.
I’ve often remembered that conversation through the years, as well as others I’ve heard at homeschooling families’ dinner tables. Meal time is a perfect built-in discussion time with your children. Everyone is relaxed, filling their stomachs and able to focus without the distraction of other activities. That’s why I often am puzzled at how little use parents make of this time.
There are the parents who let the children direct the conversation entirely, never breaking into chat about movies, toys and games with something more educational. There are the parents who allow other activities to overshadow dinner time – movies, games, driving to the next appointment. And then there are the parents who totally ignore their children, only discussing the “boring” adult topics that interest them.
Why not instead make dinner time fun and educational? Dinner was and still is one of the best times in our house. We talk about our day, discuss current events, debate theology or philosophy and tell funny stories. I’ve probably learned more from our dinner table than from any other place in our house. Here are some ideas that we’ve tried over the years to make this a productive time.
Word games. This can be fun for adults and children alike and it helps children learn more about language. Find three words that sound the same but mean different things (i.e. there, their, they’re). Think of words that rhyme. Come up with whole poems. Learn to spell hard words.
Current events. Even children can understand basic things like being in debt and why our government shouldn’t be, electing a good man for president and why you think Mr. Joe Schmoe should be elected, or a hurricane that destroyed people’s houses and what you can do to help. Obviously, these topics need to be kept age-appropriate. But they are a good way to start helping your child form a Christian worldview of current events.
Tell stories. Tell stories of when you were little, stories of when Grandpa was little, stories of what happened at work today, stories that you have read. Have your children tell stories too. This will help them learn things like sequential thinking, clarity in descriptions, and succinctness. Slow them down or ask them questions if they become incoherent. Many good speakers got their start practicing at their family’s dinner table.
Memorize Scripture. Work on learning God’s Word as a family. Pick a verse or two each day or each week. Then discuss what the Scripture passage means and how to apply it.
These are just a few ideas to get you started. Don’t let that wonderful built-in family time go to waste. Instead, help it become your family’s favorite time of day as you enjoy learning and talking together.