Last week, I wrote about making family dinner a priority, a regular part of daily family life. This week, here are some thoughts on making dinnertime fun for your kids:
Decorate! Decorating the table makes dinner more festive. This doesn't have to be elaborate or complicated, but can be as simple as lighting a few candles or setting out some seasonal ornaments. Better yet, let your kids choose a centerpiece - a toy train, flowers picked from the yard, brightly colored fall leaves collected during an afternoon walk, an assortment of interesting rocks or pinecones. If you have several children, they can take turns picking the centerpiece each evening - you'll be amazed at the creative ideas they come up with!
When I was a little girl, there was one very special seat at the table - the seat between Mom and Dad. I remember racing my younger sister for the coveted chair when the call came for dinner. If there is a particularly desirable seat at your family table, why not let it be an occasion for honoring each child in turn throughout the week?
Instead of a special seat, your family could have a special plate. This plate is used by a different family member each night, as a token of the family's gratitude for each individual. We didn't have an "official" special plate when my kids were little, but we had a funny variation on this idea. One of our dinner plates had a chip missing from its edge. Nothing big or very noticeable. The tradition somehow got started at our house of it being a really big deal to get the chipped plate. Once everyone was seated, an excited voice would invariably pipe, "Hey! I got the chipped plate!" I guess it was special because it was different!
Also, make dinnertime....dinner time. Don't eat and run, but develop a habit of lingering at the table for conversation. No one needs to leave the table until everyone is finished eating - remember, this is a family ritual, not just a short-lived gathering of individuals. When our kids were young, we found that word games made dinnertime a fun occasion they didn't race to finish. Here are a few games we enjoyed...
"Something you would find on/in a ...." - Steve usually started this one off. He would name an item/theme, and then we go around the table naming something that went with it. It was fun to see how long we could keep coming up with new words before we had to start over with a fresh theme. For example, Steve might say "What is something you would find on a ship?" The rest of us would answer - anchor, rope, mast, sail, etc.
"Something bigger than/smaller than..." Again, Steve usually started this game: "Name something smaller than a cow." Each successive answer had to be smaller than the item named before. This game grows quite challenging, very quickly.
Rhyming games - How long can we keep going around the table naming new words that rhyme with a particular starting word?
One of our favorite rhyming games also incorporated simple riddles. We call these stink-pinks. Think up a riddle, the answer to which is a pair of rhyming words. Then, everyone takes turns guessing until someone gets the right answer. What does a spider use to drink coffee? A bug mug. What do you wear to a campout? Bonfire attire. What do you call a laughing goat? A silly Billy. (That's a stinky-pinky.) What do you call a frozen two-wheeler? A bicycle icicle. (That's a stinkety-pinkety.) Kids pick up on these pretty fast and have a lot of fun creating their own riddles and rhymes!
Family jokes - What a great mealtime tradition. We had a family collection of totally ridiculous cow jokes. I think the goal with the cow jokes was to outdo one another with absurdity. My kids have all outgrown the cow jokes, but simply asking "What do you call a cow who crosses the road?" still elicits a chuckle and a smile. Fun memories!
Investing the time and energy to develop a habit of eating dinner together and conversing as a family produces incredible rewards. A couple of my children are adults now. Several more are right on the brink of adulthood. I can't think of anything more enjoyable than sitting down to a meal together with these wonderful people. Cow jokes and stink-pinks have given way to discussions about faith, current events, college classes, this week's top ten country music singles, and the fur market in China. Something tells me we're just beginning to get warmed up...for eternity!
3 weeks ago