Mealtime chatter helps boost children’s communication skills, suggests a study by the National Literacy Trust.
Children whose families sit and talk during meals are more confident, the poll of 35,000 UK children indicates. But more than one in every four misses out on daily mealtime chats with their families, suggests the poll.
Former EastEnders actress, mother and literacy campaigner Natalie Cassidy said: “Food is fuel for our bodies. So is conversation for our brains.” She also said “the spoken word and listening back are the first steps on the learning ladder” for her daughter Eliza, aged three.
Children aged eight to 16, from 188 schools across the UK, completed the questionnaire in their classrooms late last year.
The data suggests that sitting in silence at mealtimes is worse for children’s confidence than not sitting down for family meals at all. The results suggest that some two-thirds (62%) of those who talk daily with their families at mealtimes feel confident to speak in front of a group, compared with less than half (47%) of those who eat in silence and just over half (52%) of children who don’t sit down for meals.
Some three-quarters (75%) of those who chat at family meals said they felt confident to join in class discussions, compared with 57% of those who sit together to eat but never or rarely talk and just under two-thirds (64%) of those who don’t sit down for meals. The study also suggests that the majority of children and young people (87%) sit down with their family at mealtimes – but while almost three-quarters (74%) of families chat at mealtimes every day, some 7% said they almost always ate together in silence.
Children on free school meals were slightly less likely to report chatting with their families at mealtimes everyday (71%). The rate for older pupils was also lower – 68% of 14- to 16-year-olds, compared with 76% of 11- to 14-year-olds.
I find this report very interesting. I’ve always liked the idea of families sitting down together and talking over a meal. Often at home I’m watching the news and discussing events with my grandparents whilst eating a meal, and it certainly allowed me to talk a lot more freely and confidently than I had done in my childhood, so if it worked for me, why not try it for the kids?
I don’t think this should be limited to just at home either. I would like to see a shift in where teachers have their lunch. As it stands they usually have their lunch hidden away in the staff room, but for me this misses a golden opportunity to understand the children you are teaching. On my teaching placements, I’ve not necessarily been adverse to sitting with the children and getting to know them on a different level. Not only can you pick up some useful information about the behaviours of the children, but it also allows them to get to know you and allow for the construction of good relationships. I think that even if this is only done in the early stages or just once or twice a week, it could often bring up some interesting details about certain children that may influencing the activities or lessons that you plan and teach. I’ve also not been adverse to going out in the playground to observe which children are in which friendship circles and who are usually isolated, as well as get to know other members of both the school staff and pupils from other classes. I believe that if you can be a role model for confidence in communication and relationships outside of lesson time, that you should be using those skills and almost provide extra curricular teaching without all the planning.
I know some people are probably going to give me the argument that ‘teachers don’t go out at lunchtimes, that’s what the Mealtime Assistants are for.’ That’s been said to me in the past. Well maybe that’s true, but does it have to be? If you feel you need the downtime then fine, but there are opportunities out there that you are missing out on. I’m very child centered in my beliefs so any opportunity that I can spot to develop children on both an emotionally and academic front, I would want to take.