When my son was still in school, my wife and I often pulled out a game called Table Topics at the dinner table. It was less of a game and more of an opportunity for us to talk. The box of cards was filled with conversation starters, some silly and some serious. We could usually make it through one or two at a meal, and it helped make the time together at the dinner table feel more meaningful.
I was reflecting on this and thought I would suggest five “table topics” that any parent could ask their children at the dinner table that would help support their learning. The first piece of this, of course, is to all sit down to dinner together at the table. Sitting on the couch with a TV show on doesn’t count. My wife is always great at ensuring there are nice tablecloths and decorations that make the table a place we want to be. Making the investment to eat together at the table as a family is worth the time, even if you can only make that investment a few times each week. Schedules are complicated, so give yourself some grace, but make sure you invest the time when you can.
Once you’re all together enjoying a good meal, consider some conversation starters that can make the time more than just stuffing food in your faces. You don’t have to know the Pythagorean Theorem or be able to explain the Theory of Relativity. Children need to feel wanted, loved, and cared for to learn well, and that is something that any parent can do. Consider the following five questions for your own dinner table conversation starters.
- What was your favorite thing you learned about today? Learn what your children’s interests are and where they excel. Ask them why they enjoy certain topics so they can explore their strengths along with you.
- What was the hardest thing you learned about today? Every child will find some topics easier and some harder to understand. It’s good for them to realize that it’s ok for some things to be more challenging. It’s also good for them to learn that what’s hard for one child may be easy for another, and that doesn’t mean that either child is better or worse than the other.
- What are you excited about for tomorrow? This question can help you understand what your children will be learning tomorrow, which you can use as a conversation starter tomorrow. Again, this question will help you and your child explore their interests and strengths together. Eventually, these conversations will help students understand themselves and what goals they have for their future.
- What are you least excited about for tomorrow? As with the previous question, this can help you gauge what might be causing your children worry or anxiety. You can again use this as a question to drive a follow-up conversation tomorrow. It also allows you to walk through this item with your child so you can help them learn how to handle their worry or anxiety in a healthy way.
- Do you know how much I love you? This question might seem silly, but I don’t think it’s something we can say enough as parents. Our children need to know they are loved, supported, and that we like them exactly how they are. Children who feel loved will have higher self-esteem and confidence and are more likely to expend more significant effort when learning new and challenging topics at school.
This is not an exhaustive list of tabletop topics for your family dinnertime meal. Feel free to use this as a starting point and make it your own. But investing just a few minutes of the day during a meal can be an investment that pays tenfold for you and your children. Enjoy your time together, and give yourself a pat on the back for investing in your child and their education!