When many of our parents and grandparents were growing up, children were expected to sit quietly at the table and not speak unless spoken to.  Today, many of us are struggling just to keep the kids from dancing on their chairs, crawling under the table, or racing out to friends’ houses!

Even if our kids are old enough to stay seated, many of us want to go achieve more than a simple family sit-in and actually make dinnertime a joyful time of day.  At our house, usually at the prompting of our eldest child (a.k.a. my husband, Andrew), we often play games that keep the conversation fresh and lively. Some of these games also help children develop their vocabulary, spelling or counting skills, and of course, their social skills:

Speech Club: This is my daughter Celia’s favorite game.  Each family member has to talk for 30 seconds (use a timer) without preparation on a topic someone else chooses without saying “um” or “like” or pausing for more than 2 seconds. Subjects can include anything from eggs to Italy to fall.

Progressive Story: My eight-year-old nephew Clark wants to play this game whenever he eats at our house, and it’s a great one for large family gatherings. The family tells a story with everyone at the table going around and adding just one word.  When someone wants to end the story they can say “period.”  The stories can be hilarious (especially if you do what we’ve done and ban “potty talk” at the table, lest all the answers involve a bodily function).

Time Test: This game requires a stopwatch and kids who are old enough to count. Each family member tries to accurately count to 10 or 30 seconds, measured against a stopwatch. The adults at the table really get into the competition.

Here are a few games suggested by other parents on The Six O’Clock Scramble Facebook page:

Alphabet Game: “We have young kids – so we do alphabet games. Everyone goes around (in order) and names a word that starts with A, the next person with B, so forth. As they get older, they can also spell the word.”
Beverly Cook Halperin, Plano, TX

Spin the Dreidel: “We spin a dreidel to get my almost 4 year old son to eat. He eats the meat, veggies, starch or drinks water based on what letter the dreidel lands on. My 6 year old daughter came up with this idea last winter, and it works well.”
Tracie Cohen, Singapore

Guess the Animal: “We do an animal guessing game, kind of like twenty questions but with actual answers to keep things easier for the little ones. This works great until my husband picks an animal no one knows, like a Wallaroo.”
Trudi Benford, Washington, DC

There are, of course, some meals where the kids just don’t feel like talking much, and others where they won’t stop interrupting us and each other.  But we find the meals where we all happily engage in conversation to be some of the most memorable times for us as a family.

Want more fun at the dinner table? Here are some of my favorite sites for more great ideas:

* How to get your family back to the dinner table with tips and themes for every day of the week:  http://www.integratedmother.com/2010/02/get-back-to-the-family-dinner-table/

* More ideas for dinner table games: http://www.ehow.com/how_4623261_fun-dinner-table.html

* Here are some dinner board games you can purchase for some extra inspiration: http://www.familieswithpurpose.com/family-dinner-games.html

What fun and games do you create around your dinner table? Let us know in the Comments section below.

Recipe: Moo Shu Vegetable Wraps

  • Total Time: 25 min(s)
  • Servings: 6
  • An Asian-inspired family dinner.

    Ingredients

      • 1 – 1 1/2 cups white or quick-cooking brown rice
      • 2 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
      • 1/2 yellow or white onion, sliced into thin strips
      • 1 zucchini, cut lengthwise into quarters and thinly sliced
      • 1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
      • 8 – 12 oz. sliced mushrooms
      • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
      • 4 Tbsp. hoisin sauce (a Chinese marinade and dipping sauce)
      • 6 whole wheat or white tortillas
      • 1 1/2 cups cooked sliced chicken (optional)
      • 1 tsp. - 1 Tbsp. Asian chili sauce, Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce, for serving (optional)

    Instructions

      • Cook the rice according to package directions.
      • Meanwhile, in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil.  Add the onions and zucchini and cook, stirring frequently, while you chop and add the other vegetables.  Stir in 2 Tbsp. hoisin sauce.  Continue to sauté the vegetables for a few more minutes, stirring often, until they are tender but not mushy, 8 - 10 minutes total, from when you first added the onions and zucchini. Remove the vegetables from the heat.
      • Put the tortillas on a microwave-safe plate, cover them with a damp paper towel, and heat them on high power for 1 – 2 minutes until they are very warm and soft.
      • At the table, lay a tortilla on each plate and brush a little hoisin sauce (about 1 tsp.) in the middle of it with the back of a spoon.  Add a scoop each of the rice, vegetables, chicken (optional) and a few drops of hot pepper or chili sauce (optional).  Wrap the tortillas burrito-style.

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    • http://www.simplebites.net/ Aimee @ Simple Bites

      OK, this is a little embarrassing, but keep in mind that I have two little boys! We occasionally play a game invented by my son at age 4 called “Dirty Things and Yucky Things”.
      Each one takes turns trying to think of the grossest food combo. (Potty talk is forbidden; after all, we are at the table!)
      Eg: A compost smoothie. Mop water soup. Coffee grounds burrito. Gravel omelet. and so on.
      It’s pretty funny what the little ones come up with and leaves us all roaring with laughter.
      Now you know!

      • http://nursemommylaughs.com Stacey H.

        That is such a great idea! I can only imagine what my girls would come up with. Not just for boys!! Thanks for the tip.

    • http://www.mycuesticks.com @CueSticks

      We play “BDG”. Everyone takes turns saying a Brag, Desire & Gratitude. When you brag, really brag, and have fun! Desire-what do you wish for today? Gratitude-tell something you’re thankful for or how you helped someone out. We also like to play Fake Out. Each person tells the family three things about their day with only one being a thing that actually happened. The family has to figure out which one is true.

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    • Nicole

      Can’t wait to try some of these. I’ll do just about anything to keep my children at the table. :)

    • http://savorysweetlife.com alice

      I love all these suggestions!

    • http://blog.hippoflambe.com Robin (Hippo Flambe)

      We often play choices, we go around the table, when it is your turn you say 2 things. Bread or Soup, Oranges or Apples, Breakfast or Dinner, Chocolate or Pie…

      Then each person in turn has to say which one they like better.

    • Aviva Goldfarb

      I love all these creative ideas and look forward to trying them out at our dinner table!

    • Matt G.

      Ha! That’s an awesome idea (and your examples are hilarious). We’re definitely going to try this tonight!

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