How To Spark Articulate Conversation At The Dinner Table

November 21, 2015

“The fear of boredom restrains us from learning patience and creativity.”

Sherry Turkle, psychologist and professor at M.I.T., tackles technology temptations and discusses potential benefits of real-time, real-life conversation, of which our devices hinder, around the dinner table. Since our minds are hanging out by the door, we fill the void with mindless entertainment. We think rest will come in the form of retiring from any critical thinking or engagement, so we cling to our devices and inhale our dinner. And yet, we all agree: there is beauty in interaction, value in connection.

Yearning to halt the mechanical small-talk, I scoured the wisdom of parenting magazines, peer-reviewed research, and friends who grew up dining on squash casserole and articulate discourse. How do we ignite interest in the art of conversation, especially among our young, developing children?

Jenny Rodenstrach, author of Dinner: A Love Story, tips readers to ask their children something they were mad, sad, or glad about that day. This is a fantastic way of drawing out your children, but exploration of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in day-to-day situations teaches to reflect with a heavenward bent. Initially, children may need to be cajoled and given examples and even definitions for these traits, but eventually, they will catch on.

If God were sitting right here, eating these sweet potatoes, what would you ask him? 

Tell me about the book you’re reading. 

What two things are you thankful for today? 

What has God been showing you lately?

What is something you excelled at today and something for you to work on tomorrow? 

As your children grow older, you can take this practice a step further and implement these ideas…

Foreign Languages

My bilingual friend grew up playing this charming dinner game with her German family – it went something like this: Speak only the second language during the entirety of dinner and keep score how many times a person speaks English. Everyone starts out with 10 points – however many you have kept by the end of dinner signifies the amount of jelly beans you receive!

Analytical Ideas

Once older children grasp onto a topic – Chronicles of Narnia: book of choice or George Washington: subject in American history class – take their knowledge base answer and dig deeper to teach critical thinking.

Knowledge & ComprehensionWhat was George Washington known for? What is something you know about him other people might not know?

ApplicationHow can we learn from George Washington today?

Analysis Why do you think George Washington arranged for his slaves to be freed when he died?

EvaluationWhat were the strengths and weaknesses of Mr. Washington?

CreativityWhat do you think caused/causes people to want a republic? 

This method gives opportunity to applaud results in solving problems, in lieu of simply giving general praise for homework completion. Curiosity will be inspired and perhaps fuel the next dinner table discussion. Do you, readers, remember any dinner conversation starters used while you were wee ones? How do you initiate conversation?

Bon appétit!

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