So, What Happened to Dinner?

I worry that dinner together just doesn’t happen enough with families.  You know, the good old sit down together, passing and serving food, talking about the day.  The benefits are huge, and I’d like to tell you why.  I’ll start with my classroom.

My classroom lunch time is really a big family dinner, or at least what a dinner at home should be like.  We talk, together.  The bonding is one thing, the language is another.  When we have our conversations it’s more than the words we use.  We listen, share new thoughts, have discussions, learn about each other, and share stories.  This is much deeper than just vocabulary words. It has to do with learning, comprehension and succeeding in life.  Let me bridge those thoughts from words and language, to succeeding in life.  That’s a huge leap, yet it is very true.  Here are some stories and statistics to fill in the middle.

A few decades ago a study was done to see if there was a common denominator among National Merit Scholars.  Surely they were all on the debate team, or volunteered, or played an instrument, or were class president.  There had do be a common denominator, and there was just one; those scholars had dinner at home with their families at least four times a week.  Are you surprised?  I was.  I expected that it would be the books they had read, yet reading books is really grounded in language, and language starts with…well, dinner.

I’d like to share with you the first newsletter that I sent to families, back in the 90’s.  Before that, my information was like Dragnet, “Just the facts, Ma’am”.  This newsletter became my moral compass, and still is.

After attending a teacher seminar and hearing the moans and groans about lunch time in the classroom and then reading an article about the benefits of mealtime with families, I thought you might enjoy a little verbal window into our classroom at 12:00 PM.  Is it chaos or is it beneficial?  Yes, there is chaos.  The logistics of getting 15 children set up for lunch is no small feat.  On the other side, lunch time is almost like a casual circle time – a time we often engage in in-depth conversations, sometimes light and fun, sometimes deep and serious!  We have debated if girls can marry girls and boys can marry boys; we have nominated our favorite cereals and our hated vegetables.  We talk about nutrition, manners, health, nightmares and monsters.  The questions are endless.  Everyone’s opinion is valued.  Isn’t that wonderful?  A favorite is, “Tell me when you were a little girl.”  Children derive such comfort and support when they know that their teacher had all the same fears and troubles when they were young.  Just ask your child about Jennie and the peas and the piano.  I think I am asked to tell this story at least three times a week.

Did you know that the benefits of verbal dialogue among families at dinner is as effective for language development as reading?  A key to language and reading readiness is in both conversation and listening.  I believe that our lunch time provides all of these opportunities plus socializing, nutrition, education, and reinforcement of table manners in a fun, sometimes relaxed, sometimes chaotic, environment.  Please join us anytime for lunch.  It’s great.

This is as true and meaningful today as it was way back then.  Here is another important fact to consider: the number of words a child hears can be directly attributed to his / her success in school.  That means, talk in meaningful ways with our children, read aloud, discuss and debate things, encourage both their listening and their dialogue.  Gee, that sounds like having dinner together!


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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1 Response to So, What Happened to Dinner?

  1. Lisa besse says:

    While I agree with you wholeheartedly, so much more is also subtly learned around the dinner table. Social cues… and that’s a biggie! Sharing, how to fight ( yep, seriously!) and when to give in, introduction of new foods, history and culture, how to tell a joke, patience (like waiting for you to eat your peas) but the best thing learned is that you are valued and loved, no matter how different you are, and your family are the ones who know your history and have your back! You see, we aren’t all going to be merit scholars, but having a place to be accepted makes all the difference.
    Love you,

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