Last week, in my post about the importance of Sunday School, (No Time For Hangman) I briefly mentioned how it is good to review what our kids learn on Sunday, preferably around the dinner table. This is the belated post talking about that very thing.
I have written about the importance of the family dinner table before, (Suppertime) but this post is Sunday specific. Sunday dinner has the potential to become a key family tradition - a worthy tradition that can bless both the current, and the next generation. I can sum it up simply in one word.
I meant to say CONVERSATION.
Sitting around the dinner table on Sunday can provide opportunities to ask questions, learn, teach and share thoughts about important things. It takes some planning and effort to establish good traditions, and this is no exception.
Every week during dinner, everyone will inevitably get the same question from Dad. "What did you learn in Church today?" This initial foray into the debriefing process is something the FOMLs and my EC are all accustomed to. They know it's coming. Granted, sometimes it sounds like this...
So, FOML5, what did you talk about in Primary class today?
Do you mean Primary when it's everybody, or just us?
Both. Tell us what you learned in your class first, and then tell us about sharing time.
OK. In class today we learned...umm...umm...I can't remember.
Did the teachers tell any stories?
What about any scriptures?
So what did you do for all that time?
Kevin talked about his new Nintendo DS game.
But what did you learn in class?
Oh, I remember! (Sigh of relief to the entire family.)
Awesome - what?
We learned about Jesus. (Groan from the rest of the family)
What did you learn about Jesus?
Just Jesus stuff.
And so it goes. But it does get better. Sometimes amazingly so. Below is a list of thoughts that can help make your Sunday dinner a time for your family to learn and share important gospel ideas. It is worth the effort, and I promise it is something that will stick with your kids. Yes, it takes some effort on he parents part. Don't get soft on me now.
• Fight the urge to ask the kids about what they learned in the car on the way home. Why? Because the second the car stops, the conversation ends. Dinner can keep going if it is worthwhile.
• Don't you dare start eating until Mom is at the table. (Great "Christmas Story" quote: "My Mother had not had a hot meal for herself in over 15 years.)
• TV off. Not just the sound. The game will go on just fine without you. Smartphones put away.
• Start with the kid that will most likely have an answer to set the pace for the rest, and give them time to think.
• Ask questions. If it turns out that the lesson was on tithing, ask if there were any good tithing stories they could re-tell.
• One of the main benefits of this process is that it helps the kids learn how to "talk gospel." Anytime they can talk about principles, doctrines, scriptures, or tell stories, they are learning how to communicate better, and are engaging in Mission Prep.
• Just because someone is done eating does not mean dinner is over. In our home we have the archaic "May I please be excused" policy. On Sunday, often the answer is, "Not yet, we would like you to stick around for a few minutes." Don't cave.
• Don't forget the YM & YW have two classes every Sunday that you can talk about.
• While some people might have concerns that pot roast is not in line with the Word of Wisdom, I can reassure you that it meets most of the elements in the 13th Article of Faith.
• If one of the kids has a consistently difficult time remembering what was taught, grab the teacher at Church and ask for a brief summary. Two good things happen: 1) You can prompt your child and reenforce what he/she didn't remember, and 2) Now there is a teacher who understands that your family is paying attention to what is being taught.
• If the answer for what they learned today is always the same, "We played Hangman," then have a very gentle visit with the instructor. Odds are, hangman isn't that frequent. (Hopefully)
• If someone is struggling to figure out what to share, skip them and come back to them.
• If you schedule of meetings is so packed that you cannot find time to sit down together for Sunday dinner, then something is terribly, horribly wrong. Talk to your leaders and tell them your problem. If YOU are that leader that over-schedules, then knock it off, and get your priorities back in order.
• When someone has a question other than "What's for dessert?" I usually let the other kids take a crack at answering before I try and be all fatherly-wise. Most of the time the older kids know the answer, or Mom will.
• Yes this all sounds like the "Family Patriarch gathering his posterity to teach the Gospel." Exactly. Now you're getting it.
• Bad doctrine will inevitably come up in these conversations. It comes from 2 places: 1) Bad listening/understanding, or 2) The teacher is teaching incorrect doctrine. THIS is the moment where the dinnertime debrief really pays off. Gently correct the mistakes without being judgmental towards the teacher.
• If she isn't serving somewhere else, be sure to ask Mom what she learned in Relief Society.
• Fathers should use discretion in sharing what went on in High Priest group, because of the high probability that it got wacky, or boring.
• If you are lucky enough to have grandparents with you, involve them, but be careful because once they get rolling....
• Sacrament talks can be a good topic as well.
• Turn of the TV and the smartphones. (Just in case you missed it the first time. Oh, and you don't really have to answer the phone during dinner.)
• You will see a gradual evolution as the kids become accustomed to this tradition. They will start listening more closely in class, and will try harder to remember what they learned - because they know they will be asked about it later.
• Mostly, this is a time to teach, using what the kids learned that day as a springboard to deeper discussions. As I mentioned before, I would be very concerned if my children gained a lot of new doctrinal knowledge at Church on Sundays, because that would mean that I am relegating my role as father to others. A ten-year-old listening to his fifteen-year-old brother try and explain how the Plan of Salvation works will make an impact on both kids. This is how you get there.
Three of my five FOMLs are now out of the house. I miss them - especially around the dinner table. But, I am glad that we took the time to have a leisurely Sunday dinner tradition. It has been delicious, satisfying and nutritious.
And I'm not talking about pot roast.
(Epilogue: Determined to practice what I preach, we focused on the Gospel tonight during dinner. We sat around the table talking about Shiz's beheading and the Jaredite decline - that was the 10 year old. Then I asked the teenager what they talked about in SS class.
Nothing? for forty minutes? We pressed, and managed to get, "We just kind of talked about what the "Gospel" meant. You know." I told him that was good, and asked how he would define it. He just sat there.
I asked again, and was told, "You can all stare at me all you want. but it isn't going to make me remember something."
I thought you might like to know that it is, indeed, a long, slow road...)