Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Read Together, Eat Together - A Recipe For Success

As a very busy working mom, my brain doesn't always retain everything I would like, but something said by my son's Principal at her welcome speech last fall is still crystal clear hear in my head.  She looked out at the sea of parents sitting in the school gym and said, I have two pieces of advice for you that will be fundamental in the parenting of your children - if you hear anything tonight, hear this:  read to your children and sit down and eat dinner together at night.

Maybe the reason this resonated with me so much is because I love food and I am a passionate reader.  I loved food and cooking so much that I went to culinary school and got a degree.  As for reading... I was that child my parents had to discipline to get my nose OUT of the book.

Let's start with eating together.  We are almost there - I sit down with the kids every night for dinner, but my husband is usually not home in time during the week.  I know this poses a problem for many families and can be a challenge.  My suggestion is trying to at least accomplish dining as a family a minimum of 3-4 times a week.  Perhaps there is a night or two during the week where schedules can be flexible, and if not, then weekends are a must. 

OK - so we have mostly accomplished the dining together part... but I'm not sure yet how it's actually faring for me.  You see, dinner hour is often the most stressful part of my day.  We're all tired from a long day and it's easy for the little things to get to us all.  Here are some of the highlights of a typical dinner hour at my house:
  • Calling the kids to the table approximately 6-10 times before they appear
  • Kids complaining about what's on the menu (or what's not on the menu)
  • Kids getting up 2 minutes after sitting down to use the loo
  • Kids getting up for any reason whatsover
  • Kids not sitting properly on chair... leading to spills and other fun accidents
  • Kids arguing over who gets juice poured first (or which cup they want... buy duplicates!)
  • Kids using cutlery to make music or gouges in my table... and inevitably landing on the floor
  • Kids playing with their food
  • Kids talking over one another and fighting over who spoke first
  • Me resorting to negotiating (close to begging) to get them to eat... you know, the countdown of how many more bites and the dreaded "no dessert" threat
Believe me, I try.  I imagine the whole Leave It To Beaver good old-fashioned mealtime and try to emulate it... so honey, tell me about your day?  How was school?  Did you listen to your teacher?  Did you get along with your friends?  I always ask them what the best part of their day was (what made them happy).  I find this puts a positive spin on things and hopefully gets the conversation on a positive note too.  In a perfect scenario, we all chat amicably, eat peacefully and are just happy to be together.  Unfortunately, it usually doesn't go that way (see bullets above).

So I thought I would search for some tips on the web on how to make dinner time more peaceful.  Welllll..... surprise, every tip I found was stuff I was already doing!  Things like setting expectations, turning off the phone, including your child in the conversation, teaching manners, taking turns on who can speak, eating what is prepared (i.e. don't be a short-order cook), etc. Since I appear to be doing the right things but clearly not getting the desired results... I am going to ask for tips from any of you seasoned moms out there... and I'm going to switch to part 2 of this post... reading together!

I have always been a passionate reader.  I love to lose myself in the many worlds and lives found in books.  On my recent post where I discussed the things I missed from before becoming a mom, you will notice that reading a book was NOT on the list.  That's because I can't NOT read.  One way I've been able to do this is by incorporating reading into cuddle time with the kids.  I will first read to them - thankfully, they love books as much as I do.  After reading to the kids, we snuggle up in front of the TV so that they can zone out and watch cartoons before bed.  I find it's a great way to help them relax and transition.  So while they are watching cartoons, you guessed it, I'm reading.  This is also part of our Saturday morning routine.  We get cozy together, they watch cartoons and I read.

There are so many great books out there for children.  We recently got the Leapfrog Tag Readers and the kids love it.  They can not only read the books themselves but also play educational games.  A great feature is that you can attach headphones so not everyone has to listen (great for restaurants).  I love how interactive the books are - it really captures their attention.  We also read tons of regular books - interesting enough, even if I'm reading girl books for my daughter, my son will sit in rapt attention and vise versa.  We haven't yet experienced that they won't listen if it's not one of "their" books.

We're in the process of helping my son learn to read.  He's definitely wanting to, but I think he's also a little bit afraid to really try.  It's a work in progress and I just keep plugging away at it.  I'm sure it will simply click one day.  I did find this very helpful guide for parents on the Ontario Ministry of Education website.  I think, however, that even when he does learn to read by himself (and my daughter too), I will keep on reading them stories at night.  I think there is something very special about reading out loud and sharing the story together.  I hear about parents who take more advanced books and read a chapter a night... definitely something I'm itching to try (I just have to find the right book to start).  Suggestions welcome!

As an avid reader, I'm always on the lookout for good books myself.  I keep a memo list in my blackberry and keep a running list of books to read.  I always have my phone with me so no matter where I am or who I''m speaking with, I can keep an updated list.  Since I have a kindle, I purchase almost all of my books on  They send me regular emails on new books and book recommendations based on my purchases.  I love that.  And when you are on the site reading a book review, they always have a ton of other suggestions based on the book you are reviewing. 

I also joined something called Goodreads which allows you to share book recommendations with friends.  I only have one connection at the moment - but she always makes good choices and we have the same taste in books!  And I of course always exchange book titles with my other avid reader friends.  Feel free to comment on my blog post below with any of YOUR recommendations, or if you connect here from my facebook link, on there as well.

So I leave you with one thing in mind... read to your kids and dine together as much as possible! Until next time...

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