Friday, July 22, 2011

The Power of the Dinner Table

I just had the opportunity to spend the evening with my two daughters, 17 and 15.  While at the dinner table we enjoyed great conversations regarding the books we are each reading, differences between how teachers teach, and the value of homework. While on vacation last week we experienced the same thing. Many times when they visit, yes I'm divorced, we cook together and talk at the dinner table as well. It seems like the moment we leave the table, however, conversation wanes. Texting begins, the T.V. gets turned on or one or more of us get online and focused on something other than each other. I can remember the best conversations I still have with my parents, my wife and even my friends occur around either a meal or possibly a beverage. 
I know that there is a tremendous amount of research that acknowledges just how important a family meal in the evening is, so I am wondering why we as school leaders, don't protect that time for our families. We can often fill  children's days with scheduled activities which prohibit family time at the dinner table. 
Whether it be dance lessons, music lessons, sports team practices, games, concerts or just a plethora of homework I would guess that a dinner together as a family is a rare thing and even if everyone is eating at the same time, it is rarely around the dinner table with no T.V., texting, radios, newspapers etc. 
I also remember doing my homework at the dinner table as that was the only place to really do it in my house when I was young. Mom and Dad were often there as well or made frequent visits to ensure we were not experiencing any difficulties. After we were done with our homework and chores, we were sometimes allowed to watch a T.V. show with them. We had early bedtimes and were encouraged to read in our rooms by frequent visits to the library and the absence of any electronic devices in our rooms. Even when I did get a record player, it was not to be used after the designated bedtime. 
I look in my son's room at college and he has two video game consoles, a computer a 42" flat screen T.V. and the ever present smartphone. Until he left for college, however, his mother had him follow much the same routine I had followed when I was a child.  I commend her for using the Power of the Dinner Table with my kids when she could. I believe it is due to their time at the dinner table is what has ensured their success up to this point. Our parents were geniuses.  It is amazing how we don't often realize this until after we have had our own children. I am going to call my parents tomorrow and thank them for all of those times I missed a show I wanted to watch in order to complete my homework or honor a bedtime which I am sure was designed to encourage my reading. 


  1. First, Dave, thanks for the opportunies that we have had in the past to sit around a table and share philosophy along with a meal. I think both enhanced the other.

    Secondly, I wonder if the fact that viewing the school and the students within as family has an impact on our immediate family interactions.

    Lastly, I am always amazed how intelligent my parents became the moment I became a parent. Some day I hope that I can experience that enlightenment of my own children, but for now, I'll just take the dinner table conversation.

  2. Yes I agree that sitting around a table eating is great for family, friends, and staff for conversations and relationship building. I also know that students benefit from this also. Some the greatest conversations I have had with students was while sharing a pizza or sitting at table with them at lunch. At the alternative student staff and students are served family style and help with the clean up. I have seen how that meal has created relationships that assist in learning.

  3. I agree with the benefits of sitting at the table and eating with your family and children. You have good memories from your familly experiences. I also recognize that some family experiences are not what you remember and were not positive. So I will go from the positive outlook and say that I think that education should include the family meal. Working with the alternative school last year the students and staff ate family style. This was not planned but because the facility that the program was housed in would not allow the alternative students to eat with the other students (it was not a High School). The relationships made and conversations helped model a positive adult/student atmosphere that perhaps was not given at home. It helped the students understand the staff and how much they cared and helped the staff understand that the students were young and trying. Now look at the public school system. How much time do we schedule for the students and staff to eat? Are staff eating by themselves (due to contract) or with the students? 20 minutes is not enough time to eat and conversate. I actually have to walk around and tell students to stop talking and eat! I hate it. Some of the topics they are discussing are very important. So how can that be fixed? I would like to have all staff eat with students if possible. I would also like to have family pods with parents and visitors invited in to enhance the pods. I would like to schedule a open lunch time where students can leave if needed but stay if needed. I would like to get rid of the tray and replace it with a plate.(we are not in prison). Lots of ideas now how does that work? A challenge to see is always worth the risk.