"No books at the dinner table" is easily Jay's least favourite rule in our home. Being lovers of books ourselves, the husband and I sympathize with his plight, but that's the rules, sorry Love. Dinner time is for talking, not reading.
Every evening we gather at the table, marked as it is with scratches and burns and glitter and paint. We hold hands as we offer our thanks. Water is poured, food is passed around, pieces are cut for those who need it. There's noise and a few moments of chaos and then everyone settles in to their dinner (save for the occasional "I'm not eating THIS" holdout).
And then our dinner conversation begins.
"What did you learn today?"
It's a simple question, but the discussions it has created since its introduction a few months ago have been nothing short of fascinating. Jay likes to share a random "weird but true" piece of trivia with us. Kai usually insists he didn't learn a thing, but a bit of prompting often coaxes a tidbit out of him - a new word he sounded out on his own, a fact picked up in an earlier conversation, a new game he learned, a unique Lego creation from the day's play. Ell "didn't yearn nuffink today," but she's happy to chatter away just the same.
Then it's our turn. The husband has often read about a new scientific discovery to share with us, and I round things up with something from my own day's reading - a new-to-me nature factoid, a social justice campaign, a young entrepreneur, a bit of world news, a new skill I've been working on, whatever inspires me when the question comes 'round my way.
Sometimes we each share our little bit of learning and the conversation moves on. Usually, though, we find ourselves exploring one of the introduced topics at a deeper level, or branching off into related discussions - from science to math to etymology to social awareness, wherever the kids' questions (and our own) lead us. What started as a deliberate way to stimulate conversation, share information, and keep all interested parties appraised of the kids' homeschooling situation (not to mention take some of the sting out of Jay's book prohibition at the dinner table), has become one of our prime opportunities to learn and ask and rabbit trail to our hearts' content.
Last night's conversation began with the automated cameras recording Serengeti life. But what is an aardwolf? or a zorilla? How big are they? How big are they when they're born? What does "aard" mean? What does "aardvark" mean? How many ants does it eat in a day? How many seconds are there in a week? So how many ants is that per second? And so it goes.
The question itself was chosen not for its informative opportunities, though, but rather for its encouragement to always keep learning. Listen, Daddy learned something new today. So did Mommy. And you? What did you learn? What do you have to contribute to our conversation? We all have something to share. Learning isn't limited, isn't top-down, isn't separate from our daily lives. It isn't dull and boring and forced, something to suffer through until free time can begin again. It has no beginning and no end. It is part of what makes us human.
It has been good, this question, a lovely addition to our frequent bedtime conversations, which hold familiar questions of their own. Keep the conversation going, keep quietly pointing them to all that is good and worthy, keep listening and learning and hearing as they tell you, piece by piece, who they are.
Do you have a regular topic or question that you use to inspire dinnertime conversation?