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Can Eating Dinner Together Boost Your Kids’ Reading?

November 6, 2015

Dinner with Olivia cover detail Adapted by Emily Sollinger Illustrated by Guy WolekWith everyone’s work and after-school commitments, it can be so hard to squeeze a family dinner – the sort that happens at a table, with family members actually talking to each other – into our evenings! But we certainly have fond memories of the family dinners of our childhoods, with conversations that connected us and taught us about each other and the world.

We were interested to read an article by Anne Fishel, who’s an author, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of The Family Dinner Project, in which she argues that having dinner together can boost kids’ reading skills.

Fishel cites studies which show that children who are encouraged to tell stories (for example, at the dinner table) are likely to be better readers.

She lists a number of strategies you could use if you want to go further and encourage kids to tell longer stories which include more information:

  • Reminisce with your children about past experiences you’ve shared with them. “Remember when we forgot to take the brownies out of the oven?”
  • Ask a lot of open-ended questions, including plenty of “how” and “why” questions rather than questions with yes-or-no answers.
  • Encourage longer stories by repeating what your child says or by elaborating on her story.
  • Instead of deciding what story to tell, follow your child’s lead on what she wants to talk about.

family dinner table image via pixabay creative commonsHearing stories can also boost kids’ vocabularies:

“When parents tell a story at the dinner table about their day or recount a funny family anecdote, they usually include many words that a
young child hasn’t yet learned but can understand from the context
of the story. Children who have rich vocabularies, packed with less common,
more sophisticated words, learn to read more easily because they can make sense of the words they are deciphering.”

These kinds of conversations, involving several people of different ages, are special, and likely to expose kids to a far wider vocabulary than direct conversations with kids (one parent to one child). Fishel doesn’t make this comparison in her article, but in a previous post, Better Reading Kids looked at study in the journal ‘Psychological Science’ which found that the vocabulary used in direct parent to child conversations was more limited than that in children’s picture books:

“Unlike conversations, books are not limited by here-and-now constraints; 
each book may be different from others in topic or content, opening new domains for 
discovery and bringing new words into play.”

So, we guess it comes down to doing as much talking, reading and playing together as we possibly can …

We’d love to hear about your family’s great dinner conversations – about books, or other topics! Please tell us in comments.

Want to read more? Try:

Our article about how reading can boost self-esteem, creativity, friendships and good sleep

Our article about why reading that same, favourite book at bedtime is doing your preschooler good

Our tips for re-engaging young readers who’ve lost the reading bug

Our article on what happens to kids’ brains when they listen to a story, how picture books can develop vocabulary, and the Number 1 reason kids enjoy being read to

Our article on how books help develop children’s empathy

Our article on why it’s important that dads are involved in reading aloud

Our article on truly great reading aloud and storytelling

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