I stenciled the saying "Around a table friends share best, the warmth of being together" on our dining room wall. It's a gentle reminder of the importance of dinner table conversation. I've done my share of drive-through dinners between sports practices and school activities. It's not by choice, but of necessity. After a good look at the nutritional value of those meals and the garbage on the floor of the car, we've recommitted to the dinner table.
Sometimes that means eating at 4:45pm before a rehearsal. Sometimes that means eating at 7:00pm after a practice. It always means that we will discuss the events of the day and reconnect. When my children were younger, we played table games. We had a stash of game questions like "What's something you've always wanted to do, but never had the courage to try?". Everyone had a chance to respond. Sometimes getting through one question could span the entire meal.
Since I had their complete attention, another game focused on practical matters. I made up index cards with questions like, "Can you use aluminum foil in the microwave? or Describe how to make a grilled cheese sandwich." Occasionally, I would add a few new questions to the mix.
Before a trip to a foreign country, I made up flashcards with common words from the local language. We practiced pronunciations during dinner. They were thrilled when they saw words and signs that they recognized on our trip.
One of their favorite games to this day is "Name the best thing that happened to you today". It helps them (and me) focus on one good thing that occurred instead of a list of bad things.
The games provided some valuable insight into what they were thinking and provided them with equal opportunities to express themselves. They also encouraged fast eaters to stick around for their slower siblings.
Any more ideas for good dinner table discussion?