I love the premise of the book and the value it places on being sure we remain connected as a family. On the lighter side, David offers good recipes that my kids have actually eaten, fun ideas for making dinner special or unique, and some creative activities for ensuring that the dinner hour is actually enjoyable. My favorite activity so far is having everyone at the table do an impression of another family member's laugh. We were all in hysterics almost immediately.
On the more serious side, David echoes what I've heard elsewhere. She notes,
The research is in! Children who do well on school achievement tests are the ones who eat meals and snacks with their families. Those who eat dinner with their families four or more times a week are more likely to score better than those who have dinner three or fewer times a week. (169)One of David's chapters focuses on reading as a way to liven up the dinner conversation. She doesn't suggest that everyone bring their favorite book and bury their noses in it -- instead she offers the idea that a few minutes of snippets from speeches by influential people, newspapers, the Internet, poetry books, and the like can lead to some lively dinner conversations that go well beyond, "how was your day dear?" I'm quite taken with her idea because how better to learn about each other and continue to learn together than to talk about the goings on in the world often and a lot -- and what better time than during dinner? Practically speaking, it is just a lot more interesting than begging a four year old to try something, anything you've cooked, and idealistically speaking, it is just the kind of family I'd hope to be a part of ... one that explores ideas together and naturally gravitates toward the pursuit of learning.
One idea that David offers highlights a series that she started in collaboration with The Huffington Post called Family Dinner Downloads. You can click here, or go to www.huffingtonpost.com and search for "Family Dinner Dowloads" to check it out. Essentially, she suggests gathering "around the laptop or smartphone -- or pass around a printout -- and check the Family Dinner Download of the week, which will end with a question or two that will get everyone thinking and sharing their thoughts, feelings, and opinions" (177) about a relevant, age-appropriate current event.
Right off the bat, I can hear the objections ... 1) Dinner time should not include any electronic devices and 2) The Huffington Post has a political bias that not everyone may agree with and thus their topics and questions may not jive with every family's perspectives and opinions. Totally valid, and if you can suspend your objections for a moment, I think you will find that the idea of spending a few minutes at the table with your children reading about a current event and then exploring each person's thoughts on the matter is pretty compelling. What is not to like about a little reading practice in an unexpected place AND the opportunity to expose our kids to the world beyond Moraga? David's partnership with The Huffington Post happens to be a prepackaged, easy-to-access way of doing just that, but it can also be modified to suit your family's interests, perspectives about current affairs, and the age of your children.
You could, for example, scan the day's news, select a topic, write up a brief synopsis of the event/issue, and throw in some questions, and you've got yourself your very own Family Dinner Download... and while you are at it, you could crown yourself Super Mom or Super Dad for your heroic parenting efforts (right after you apologize that there is no dinner to eat because you were busy preparing the Family Dinner Download instead). All facetiousness aside, you might easily use what The Huffington Post has to offer, and if you heartily disagree with the way the topic is presented, use that as a teaching moment!
However you decide to start off the dinner conversation, I could also see, for the more ambitious, how each dinner's topic could be easily complemented by coordinating bedtime reading selections. For example, the Family Dinner Download about Egypt, Leadership, and Freedom might be paired up with a post-dinner reading of "Ten Amazing People and How They Changed the World." I could also see, for a family with children in the lower grades, how picking up a set of The Ungame cards or Table Topics for Families would accomplish the same ends -- a little reading and an engaging conversation.
No matter which way you do it -- Turbo Topics or Topics Light -- I can't help but think that David is on to something so right. I am inspired by and in complete concurrence with her idea that through reading together, we all have greater opportunities to connect and enjoy our time together.
I might just have to get started tonight. It is almost dinner time.