This past May, I talked to many moms who were excited for the school year to be over and summer vacation to begin.
The last month of the school year was jammed packed with concerts, awards ceremonies, sporting activities and other end-of-year celebrations. Summer vacation was looking like a nice break from the full schedules.
Now that summer is almost over, I am hearing from moms again. They are looking forward to school starting back up and having a schedule and intentional plan for the week.
The first week back to school always seems to be a slow start. How can we help our children ease back into the system of learning? I believe this can begin with some additional structure. Start now around the dinner table.
First, create an end-of-summer dinner schedule. Encourage the entire family to sit at the table together to enjoy one meal every day. During this meal, create family rules. For example, no cellphones at the table and no answering the phone if it rings or vibrates while eating dinner.
Our family adopted this rule years ago, and we have fun with it. We agree to place our phones in the middle of the table, face down. The first person who touches their phone has to clean up and do dishes if we are at home or that person pays for the meal if we are out.
During a recent weekend, we visited our boys in Madison, Wis., and ate out for dinner. I noticed that every table had their phones out except for ours. My family’s dinner habit still exists. It is a joy to witness.
Second, prepare a new question every day that everyone at the table must answer.
• What did you learn today?
• Who are you excited to see when you return to school?
• What are you excited to do tomorrow?
Avoid questions that begin with “D.” (For example, “Did you have fun today?”) These questions usually solicit one-word answers. Keep your questions challenging, creative and open-ended. Encourage the family members to expound and share the reasons why they chose their answers.
My favorite types of questions are the creative, off-the-wall questions, such as, “What shapes did you see in the clouds today?” There is a chance that no one saw any shapes in the clouds because they did not look up in the sky throughout the day. I guarantee they will look at the clouds tomorrow. They probably will mention it at dinner, too.
Third, give every family member a challenge for tomorrow. Maybe it is a project to complete or a scavenger hunt to do. Maybe the kids could create a scavenger hunt for the parents.
The more consistent you are with this end-of-summer meal schedule, the less you will have to initiate it. After a few days, the family will come to the table, ready to share their activities or questions.
Our brains work in habitual ways. It is time to reengage in the habit of learning.
Kathie Rotz is a leadership consultant and John Maxwell certified speaker, trainer and coach with Unity Consulting in Dubuque.