I’m excited to have Carol Archambeault guest post today about literacy activities at the dinner table. Carol is the author of the wonderful book, The Shared-Meal Revolution. If you are a longtime reader of Growing Book by Book, then you know I’m a huge advocate for family dinners and the impact they have on our kids’ literacy development. So, let’s see what Carol has to share!
You may be a parent who enthusiastically has a family meal ritual every day –a morning breakfast, or evening dinner (or both). You lovingly round up the kids (or “critters” as my father-in-law is fond of saying) for that slice of family time, and to check in with each other. You may already be feeling the closeness and a deep satisfaction of knowing that despite how busy your lives are, you are a connected family. Bravo!
But did you know that when you share meals regularly, you are also gaining other benefits? One tremendous benefit of sharing meals is in the area of literacy. Here are a few ways children, and all family members, can benefit:
- Through conversations at a shared meal, children can practice and increase their vocabulary. They notice new words others use, and hear those words in context to understand their meaning.
- Children can try out a new word in the safety of their own home (perhaps a tricky word they’ve been hearing but are not yet too confident to try out!)
- Conversations at the dining table help children learn the give and take of dialogue, and the flow of conversation versus people talking over each other. Understanding these cues from one speaker to the next can also help children recognize when the “speakers” (or characters of a story) they are reading have switched.
- Children can get practice writing words and phrases that are related to meals and food. In addition, at appropriate ages they can learn to follow recipes, a format that is different from story reading.
- Storytelling itself is a very powerful aspect of many shared meals. It encourages the listener to sequence events through following unfolding details, and this deepens critical thinking skills. Listening to and sharing stories promotes rich visualization and imagination. It’s especially useful from one generation to the next.
Here’s what you can do at your shared meals to benefit literacy:
- Invite everyone to join the conversation so all have a chance to speak; during that time other family members practice being active listeners (listening for meaning versus focusing only on a reply).
- Prior to the meal, ask a family member to pick out a new word from the dictionary (including reading about its meaning); this family member will have the fun goal of choosing when to use this new word in a sentence at some point in the meal.
- Ask your children to get practice with their writing skills by writing out a grocery list, writing up the menu on a chalkboard or a poster, or using cursive on name/placeholders to decorate the table.
- Experiment with new or sophisticated words (such as use the words “elegant” or “dainty” instead of “pretty”), or words that are just fun to say to say (like “hippopotamus” or “sassafras”); this will encourage children to be brave with their word choices.
- Choose more specific descriptions of the food you are sharing when possible (for example, instead of “pasta” or “spaghetti”, serve and describe a new shape of pasta…how about “fusilli” or “rigatoni”?
- Ask open-ended questions (such as “What is your favorite color, and why?” or “If you could have one superhero power, what would it be?”) Asking these types of questions often leads to creative storytelling and helps kids to develop being comfortable speaking more than just one sentence at a time.
Read more about the many benefits and best practices of a shared-meal ritual, and how you can create your own shared-meal plan in Carol’s new book, The Shared-Meal Revolution: How to Reclaim Balance and Connection in a Fragmented World through Sharing Meals with Family and Friends. Read Carol’s blog Shared Meals Matter, and join The Shared Meal Revolution by visiting www.shared-meals.com. You can also find Carol here:Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest.