Dinner Conversation

By Sue Wight

If there’s one aspect of informal learning in home education that stands out above all others, in common with infant and adult informal learning, it’s conversation. On the face of it much of this is social, everyday talk of the kind that normally goes unnoticed. But it’s surprising how much of this kind of talk contains opportunities for learning, especially as the conversation is between a child and an adult whose knowledge of the world and how to find out things is obviously much greater. (Alan Thomas, Informal Learning)

Conversation is important to home-educators, especially natural learners and I’m sure our family is not alone in finding that dinner time, as well as being the social hub of the day, is a valuable part of their family’s learning.

Sometimes my husband, Rob, mentions something at work from the previous night’s dinner conversation and is met with an astonished response of, “You mean you actually sit and talk to each other?” When Rob explains that we sometimes talk for a couple of hours over dinner, his colleagues are frankly amazed. It seems the concept of a family dinner conversation is quite foreign to many but not, I suspect, to the average home-educator.

Although I’m no gourmet cook, I serve up a passable meal night after night, we sit down to dinner and the conversation flows. News, current affairs, work, the day’s activities, books, movies, politics, sport – the conversation is quite varied. Dinner conversation helps us stay connected as a family, it informs us, nourishes us and educates us all.

Younger families take heart! At the moment your dinner times probably look a lot like ours did ten or fifteen years ago. I well remember the days when meal times were a chaos of spilt drinks, refused vegetables and grumpy kids. Many nights, it didn’t matter what I served up, someone didn’t like it (despite having asked for seconds of the same recipe the week before). We didn’t linger over dinner in those days but we did persevere with a family dinner time. Some nights were less chaotic than others and, over time, the children gradually learned to appreciate the social aspect of meals as well as becoming less finicky about their food.

Our dinner time conversation is often the highlight of my day and I can’t understand why anyone would want to miss out on that. I just can’t imagine a life of eating dinner in front of the television or of all eating separately. I read a parenting book last week that recommended banning text messaging during dinner. That really got me wondering – how many families need to make such a rule? Who would bring their mobile phone to the dinner table? Have people forgotten how to talk to people face-to-face?

In school, part of the English curriculum is devoted to “speaking and listening”. One of the staples of the primary school experience, “News Time” is designed to provide for that. Dinner time more than covers these skills without belabouring the point. It gives kids, regardless of age, plenty of practice at expressing their opinion, articulating their thoughts and listening to other people’s views without “speaking and listening” ever being an academic exercise. Dinner time is the perfect opportunity for the family to share their day and their thoughts.

Dinner time is a central part of the home education lifestyle that we sometimes undervalue because it doesn’t have an agenda, we are not trying to teach anything, we are just enjoying each other’s company. Again, to quote Alan Thomas:

Informal, mainly social conversation obviously doesn’t follow any linear or logical sequence. What leads from one topic to another is difficult to fathom, but that’s how most natural conversation goes. The point is that it is natural. Just as in any social conversation, if a topic comes up about which one person knows more than the other, its likely that one will learn from the other. Its a natural part of conversation for one person to explain something to someone else. This is not “teaching” in the usual sense. It’s simply facilitating the normal flow of talk, offering knowledge and responding to questions. Of course not everything is taken in. A great deal is forgotten. But that’s not important. What is important is that some things will be remembered, to be picked up at another time perhaps. Learning in this way is not equated with “work” as it is in school. It is learning without knowing it, by osmosis as it were.

So take the time to enjoy dinner time conversation at your house. I’m off to cook dinner.

Bon Appétit!

From Otherways 126

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