Relax, it’s ok to have fun. Enjoy dinners. No need to stress over who is not eating what. This IS homeschooling.
Homeschooling is not just about studying and learning academic stuff. Here’s something we wrote a couple of years ago as our unschooling experience.
We were having a rare dinner out together minus the kids and we decided on Japanese. We picked one in Subang Jaya. Halfway through our meal, something dreadful made us cringe in our seat – it was the sound of an electronic game set that emits loud and shooting sounds. Our peaceful dinner was instantly shattered. We looked around for the culprit and there and behold was a boy no older than ten, noisily jabbing at his “Gameboy” while his parents and other family members went on with their dinner, unperturbed. We could endure it no longer. One of us promptly got up and walked straight to the table. When I got back to my table the noise was gone.
KV was amazed. “What did you do?”
“Wai Leng just said to the mother: ‘Excuse me, if you don’t mind, could you please ask your son to turn the sound off as we’re trying to have a quiet dinner here, thank you!’”
The above scenario is unfortunately very common. Table manners and civic consciousness are two things that are non-existent in many families today. I’m not saying that there must be absolute silence or that kids must sit still throughout the meal (these two are quite impossible for most kids today!). But I do feel strongly that basic table manners ought to be there especially when we are dining out.
But dinner time need not be a dull affair and there are times when we can bend the rules a little, or even have them thrown out the window!
A musical dinner at home
We were having our dinner at home the other day when our three-year-old (now six) was not showing his usual keenness for his food. So Daddy came up with a clever device to fly his food by “airplane” into his mouth. That entailed that the girls be quiet so that he would not be distracted from the “game”. But Amrita was being a little cheeky. She held her fork and started hitting at her bowl. Sam followed suit with table-tapping with her hands. Together they got an interesting beat going and very soon, Daddy joined in with his interesting sound produced by slapping his face and making a “pop” sound with his index finger in his mouth. Without any prompting, little Arian started beating out his rhythm with his fork on his spoon. And all the while the other rhythms and sounds were kept at an even beat. It was a wonderful performance and they liked it so much they went on and on making up new beats and new sounds at the dinner table.
They all looked at mummy and said: “How come you are not joining in?”
And I looked at them and replied: “Well, I’m the appreciative audience who gives you the applause at the end of your performance!”
They seemed to accept it because they went on and on after that until I had the table cleared! And yes, Daddy managed to finish feeding Arian by flying the food into his mouth in between all the beatings and knockings!
Dinner as Communion
Dinner time can be a very engaging time for the family and this can only occur when everyone is aware of one another and is sensitive and responsive to each other. This cannot happen if each and everyone is pursuing his or her own interest separately. The family whom we encountered at the restaurant earlier, were sitting together but they were disengaged from one another. Eating together becomes meaningless if it were merely a physical routine to be repeated everyday. Having a meal together should be like a communion where everyone is engaged in mind and spirit at the table. Hence, it is never a good thing to have the TV blasting at the background during family mealtime, much less eating in front of the TV!
I remember as a child, my family which consisted of my grandparents, parents, aunt and two siblings, always ate together at our round table. We kids would be at the nearby playground playing with our neighbours and my grandmother would always yell out to us from the house to summon us home for dinner. After washing our hands and taken our respective seats at the table, we would call to each and every elder at the table to eat. This is the traditional Chinese practice. Anyone who starts eating without going through this ritual will be given an earful by the elders! I wonder how many families still practise this during meal times?
The family that cooks together stays together!
Today, families are usually too busy with various activities to be able to have dinner together. Parents get home late from work and children have their tuitions to attend. But the times when the family can get together for a meal, they should be cherished. Home-cooked meals can be made simple and healthy even if it means just having noodles or fried rice. Children can be involved in the preparation and cooking. They can be as creative as they like with food garnishing and display. Being engaged in the process of food preparations make meal times more satisfying for everyone. The children love to make faces out of sausages, cut vegetables of brilliant orange, yellow or green and sliced eggs. Once, Daddy even made dinner for the kids inspired by Dr Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham”! The kids really thought it was for real! Sometimes we try to imitate fine-dining cuisine. The food may not be fine-dining quality but it can still look it! With a little bit of ingenuity and a dash of creativity, our food presentation can earn top marks comparable to a 5-Star restaurant!
Children get to truly appreciate the food on the table and the effort put into preparing them. Fathers should also get into the kitchen some of the time to take the helm at the wok so that the children would have a balanced perception that everyone has a place in the kitchen. Our kids can prepare simple meals for themselves when Mommy is too tired to do it. Simple fare like sandwiches, noodles and fried rice can be handled quite adequately on their own. This way, children would not fuss over their food and wait to be served all the time. Dinner becomes something to be enjoyed rather than to be stressed over. And the biggest reward for moms would be to hear your kids say: “Thank you Mommy for dinner – it was DELICIOUS!”