Monday, September 19, 2011


I'm a big believer in family dinners.  I'm sure you don't need me to tell you this, but there is a lot of research to show what a great effect family dinners can have on kids.  There are books about it.  I have oneThis one looks good too.  My parents were great about family dinners and I can hardly remember a time growing up when we didn't sit down together for dinner.  It was a nightly deal.  So I knew I wanted dinners to be a mainstay in our family.

When the boys were little I was worried and guilt-ridden because we couldn't seem to make the family dinners happen.  Tiny kids eat at such particular times, and the dinner I had planned for Nate and I often wasn't ready at the same time.  So sometimes we would eat together, but more often the kids would eat their meal, go to bed, and then Nate and I would get around to eating.  It was kind of a free for all and I thought I was failing at the family dinner thing.  But then time passed, kids got older, and the family dinner just fell into place.  I just share this for those of you with very young kids.  If you don't feel  like it's coming together, don't worry, it will.  Give it time.

Once we established the whole eating at the same time thing, I still felt like we could use some help coming together as a family.  Sure, we were all sitting down together, but our focus was kind of all over the place.  Nate and I were trying to talk to each other, the boys were trying to talk to us or yelling about some random thing.  It was a little chaotic for my taste.

I stumbled upon these dinner questions on a blog.  I cut them out, put them in a jar, and we started reading one every night.  It was fun.  The boys loved it and reminded us enthusiastically every night to pull out a question.  It gave us all something to focus on for a few minutes and a chance to get to know each other better.  We ended up not loving the questions provided by this blog.....  some of them seemed more appropriate for older kids, and some of them were just bits of trivia.  But we still loved the practice of the dinner question.  So I looked around for some other options.  Turns out lots of products exist for this very purpose.  Here are the ones we've tried:

Family Fun Time Beginner Dinner Games
Some of these dinner games were really fun.  Others were hard to play at dinner (people leaving their seats too much and not eating enough), or didn't really make sense for our family (games involving the diligent drinking of milk).  We had some favorites:  +++Dinner detectives: Someone volunteers to think of an object on the dinner table or in the kitchen and gives clues to the other family members.  Everyone takes a turn to guess the object, and once it has been guessed, someone else gets a turn to think of an object.  +++Face off: Someone chooses an emotion or reaction (I stepped on a bee, I'm getting kissed by a puppy, I heard a funny joke, I hear a monster's footsteps).  Then two people have a "face off" to see who makes the best facial expression for that situation.  The other family members vote and whoever wins gets to face off against someone else.

Kid Talk: Conversation Cards for the Entire Family
 These each started with little paragraphs about various subjects and then asks questions.  Here are a couple examples:  "One hundred years ago, most children did not go to school --- they worked.  On farms, children fed animals and grew crops like corn and beans.  In cities, young boys sold newspapers on street corners and young girls worked in factories, sewing clothes.  If you did not go to school, what kind of job would you like to do?  Why would you like that job?"  "Levi Strauss made the first pair of blue jeans in 1850 and sold them to a miner looking for gold in California.  The gold rush is over, but blue jeans are still popular.  Over 8333,000 pairs of jeans are made every day.  What is your favorite set of clothes?  Why?  Is it your most comfortable set?  What do you like to do in those clothes?"  I really loved this deck of cards.  We'll probably pull this one out again in a year or two.

You Gotta Be Kidding! Would You Rather game for kids
.  I picked this up at Walmart and it's not meant specifically for a dinner time game.  But it worked pretty well.  My main complaint was that lots of the cards were of a gross-out variety, like would you rather do this yucky thing or this other yucky thing?  I tried to make a rule of no gross out questions at the dinner table but it was hard to enforce.  These cards were fun but tended to be quickly answered and not encourage much more conversation.

Talk Show.
I can't find this anywhere online.  I bought it at a local Hallmark store.  This might have been my favorite of the bunch.  Just really simple, straight-forward conversation starters, appropriate for a wide range of ages.  We went through the whole stack, and then stashed them away for later.

When I heard Mr. Popper's Penguins was being made into a movie, I decided we needed to read the book as a family before seeing the movie  (too bad the movie was thoroughly terrible).  Thus began our tradition of reading at dinner.  So we are done with the games and questions for now.  We read chapter books instead.  Since I find that my boys aren't usually open to my book recommendations, this is a good opportunity for me and Nate to introduce them to books we loved as a kids.  They get to choose their own reading materials almost all of the time.  At dinner there is no voting process.  It is parents' choice.  We enjoyed Mr. Popper's Penguins.  Now we are reading The Littles series.  The stories are simple and fun, with short chapters.  The boys would totally scoff at these books if I were to bring them home and casually suggest that they read them.  Never, ever would they pick up these books on their own.  But because I have dictated that these will be our dinner books, they like them and they ask for extra chapters every night.  Funny how that works.

I love reading at dinner and can see us doing it happily long into the future.  I can't wait to introduce the boys to all my childhood favorites.

So those are the things we do during dinnertime.  How are your family dinner times going?


TaylorStreet said...

the Kennedy family had a dinner conversation thing where each kid was supposed to introduce one newspaper article they had read that day, and discuss it with the rest of the family.
I think that family dinner is a great thing and very important. Glad you guys are doing well with it.

Sarah Hedman said...

I loved the LITTLES!!!! I forgot about those! I might have to get them for my girls! I love the idea of making dinnertime more intentionally meaningful. You have inspired me! This time is also my most stressed out time. We always eat together but most nights I flop down in my chair having just navigated snack, homework, and making dinner for 4 kids all by myself from 3:30-5:30. My LEAST favorite time of day. So most times I sit down grouchy and just spent. Having something to "show up" for like these family time ideas would really help.