The Simplicity of a Living Education: Table-Talk

I’m a big fan of a “lifestyle of learning” where I think most learning can and should take place in the ebb and flow of life.  That doesn’t necessarily exclude a formal pattern of study; but it means for us, that learning can be going on all the time with a minimal amount of effort.

And I believe what is learned in those “teachable moments” sticks better than a regimented study.

So when I read this quote from one of my very favorite books, The Family, I was so enamored by its simplicity and power:

“But home conversation needs more than love to give it its full influence.  It ought to be enriched by thought.  Every wise-hearted parent will seek to train his household to converse on subjects that will yield instruction or tend toward refinement.  The table affords an excellent opportunity for this kind of education.  Three times each day the family gathers there.  It is a place for cheerfulness….

Table-talk may be enriched, and at the same time the intelligence of all the members of a family may be advanced, by bringing out at least one new fact at each meal, to be added to the common fund of knowledge.   Let the father or the mother have some particular subject to introduce during the meal which will be both interesting and profitable to the younger members of the family.

It may be some historical incident, or some scientific fact, or the life of some distinguished man.  The subjects should not be above the capacity of the younger people for whose especial benefit it is introduced, nor should the conversation be overladen by attempting too much at one time.  One single fact clearly presented and firmly impressed is better than whole chapters of information poured out in a confused jargon on minds that cannot remember any part of it.

A little thought will show the rich outcome of a system like this if faithfully followed through a series of years.  If but one fact is presented at every meal there will be a thousand things taught to the children in a year.  If subjects are wisely chosen the fund of knowledge communicated this way will be of no inconsiderable value.

A whole system of education lies in this suggestion, for besides the communication of important knowledge, the habit of mental activity is stimulated, interest is awakened in lines of study and research which afterward may be followed out, taste are improved, whilst the whole effect upon the family life is elevating and refilling.”  (Emphasis mine)        -J.R. Miller, The Family

So relax, talk to your kids, be intentional, understand their never-ending capacity for learning from a natural environment, and trust your instincts and their insatiable appetite for learning about the world around them.

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19 Responses to “The Simplicity of a Living Education: Table-Talk”

  1. Bertie says:

    You may be a big fan of this style of learning. However, unfortunately, the people giving out the jobs want to see that your son can work a physics problem or prepare a chemical analysis.

    • Word Warrior says:

      Bertie (why do you keep changing your name?)

      A. No they don’t. Employers could care less about “working a physics problem”. What they want is, someone who demonstrates the ability to think and apply what he knows to the task, someone who is diligent, honest, eager and know *how* to learn.

      B. We have higher hopes for our sons…namely, that THEY will be the ones “giving out jobs”.

      Your limited view of life and economic possibilities is disheartening. Open up your mind 😉

      • Bertie says:

        I am sorry it is disheartening to you. I am simply suggesting that your sons and daughters will need more than the knowledge you can convey to them. Aren’t there any gaps in your knowledge, or have you mastered a complete K-12 curriculum, including lab sciences?

        Most parents try to teach their kids things at the dinner table. However, those kids also get an education at school. They will be at a big advantage to children who just have conversation.

        Chatting with kids may work up to age 8. After that, they need far more specialized knowledge. Talking with them about miscellaneous thinks shows an unfortunate lack of effort on their teacher’s part.

        And employers care very much if their employees can do the work. Attitude is not enough–skills matter, too. That seems very obvious to me.

        Have a great weekend.

        • Word Warrior says:

          I’ve never suggested that conversation was the only means of educating our children, or that the only knowledge they receive is that which I have personally conveyed to them. Stop commenting if you aren’t interested in really reading my posts and are instead only bent on distorting and dissenting. It’s ignorant.

          • Bertie says:

            Actually, you said that “most” of your kids’ education occurred with a “minimal effort” from you. Perhaps I misunderstood it, but here’s what you said:
            “I’m a big fan of a “lifestyle of learning” where I think most learning can and should take place in the ebb and flow of life. That doesn’t necessarily exclude a formal pattern of study; but it means for us, that learning can be going on all the time with a minimal amount of effort.”
            A minimal amount of effort? I would venture that our children deserve far more. They don’t deserve “minimal” effort, they deserve a lot of effort and attention!
            I’ll stop commenting on this now, since my comments are unwelcome.

            • Word Warrior says:

              Exactly. See, you don’t even know how distorted your interpretation of what I write is. The “minimal amount of effort” modifies, “learning CAN be going on all the time”.

              So to explain it more clearly, *even aside from our formal instruction* (which takes a lot of effort ) it only requires a minimal amount to facilitate learning in all the hours of the day, in every moment.

              There is nothing about this position than minimizes our efforts in education. As homeschoolers, we pour far more into our children by the sheer time we spend with them, knowing we’re fully responsible for the kind of men and women they will become. That kind of sacrifice does not take kindly to a constant barrage of insults.
              You would do well to do some research and educate YOURSELF about the phenomenal things that can take place in a child’s education when he is given more freedom and parental input than a typical classroom affords him.

              Then you could aim your tireless efforts into bettering the world by convincing more people to homeschool.

  2. 6 arrows says:

    Our family likes to do a geography “lesson” at the dinner table every now and then. I take a magazine that has a section with letters from readers where each letter writer’s city and state are mentioned. I name a city and each of the kids try to guess which state it’s in. (If it’s a well-known city, then the older kids who know the state just let the younger ones guess.) If nobody guesses correctly the first time, then I give a geographical hint for the second round, for example, “a state in the Northeast.” The younger kids get to use a map, and learn directions that way. All the kids get practice with their listening skills so they don’t have to get told, “Hey, so-and-so already guessed that!” (The older ones get told that more than the younger ones because the olders love to socialize, and they miss the answers the youngers give because they’re busy yakking about other things!) 🙂 Oh, well, we do have fun!

  3. Keri says:

    Love that idea also 6 arrows.I remember when my older children..now in their 20’s, finished school and got their first jobs outside the home.My younger kids would always ask..”When is Lindsay coming home”..and then it would be two more names eventually.They really missed them not around all day.I will never forget one night at the dinner table..sharing something we had learned that day and I asked everyone a question that we had discussed earlier.”What is the Lord doing in your life”?My oldest son spoke up and shared some things and then said something that completely took me by surprise.He said..”I am really glad you guys homeschooled me..because..did you know that there are some really strange people out there”.I cracked up.This son has a HUGE BURDEN for the lost and he wasn’t making fun of people in saying this..he was just stating what he was thinking.He was working in the construction industry at the time and let me tell you..He was a very strong Christian witness and had two guys that were satanists trying to change his mind.There were many other things also that I wouldn’t even mention here.He is now 25 and still a very strong Christian man!All those talks you do around the table now will pay off in the long run!!The education ideas are great..I love them..BUT..the talks about the Lord..and his ways..are truly the eternal investments!! Thanks Kelly for these articles and have a Blessed Weekend!!

    • 6 arrows says:

      Keri, I like your question ”What is the Lord doing in your life”? That’s a great one to ask our kids. And you’re right, the talks about the Lord and his ways are so important in family life. Good reminder that we go beyond academic knowledge and think from an eternal perspective…or should anyway 😉

      And yes, our younger kids do miss our adult children, too, even though they all live at home; the older ones are frequently gone (or sleeping during the day, in the case of my oldest son, who works a lot of third shifts). They still have very nice bonds with each other, though, and certainly enjoy the times when they can be together. Always neat to see how all these family relationships transition through the years as more of them move from childhood to adulthood…it’s one of the things I love about having a wide expanse of ages. I’m definitely learning new things watching how God brings about all these changes 🙂

  4. Ashley Ditto says:

    I just got done reading your book. It was amazing, so inspiring! So many things you said helped me! Thank you so much! Love your blog.

  5. Mrs L says:

    Oh I love that book! You’ve inspired me to pick it up again. So much wisdom to soak in.

  6. Carolina says:

    What is wrong with working for somebody else?
    I am finding this idea often in certain homeschooling families, almost like you have to feel bad about yourself if you are not an entrepreneur.
    My husband is a plant operator in a hospital -he works for others- and it is a great job for the family because it provides for our needs, has a great schedule (7-3PM), great medical insurance, most vacation days than most jobs, and all the extra time fully paid. His job leaves him plenty of free time to fix our house (we bought a house that needs tons of work, and he is doing most of it by himself) and be with the family.
    I myself used to freelance as a translator and editor -also working for others- and was a conveniente job for a mother.
    My grandfather owned a company and was always working, with the lots of problems that came with it too.
    Not everybody is born to be an entrepreneur, and I see a lot of pressure out there over homeschooled boys. I know 2 of them, who are in their 30’s and barely making enough money because of insisting on not going to college and in not working for others.
    God calls different people to do different things. It is great to have your own bussines, but it is not the only great thing.

    • Word Warrior says:

      I’m sorry, Carolina, I don’t know where you got the impression that I think being an entrepreneur is “the only great thing”. I’m not at all opposed to working for someone else.

      The reader to whom I was commenting to in this post about it, based on these comments and many she’s made in the past, leaves no room for the idea of entrepreneurship and seeks to put children in a restrictive box, bound by “what their employers will expect”. I was trying to paint a larger picture. That entrepreneur is a real possibility, besides the other ones 😉

      • Word Warrior says:

        To clarify–“higher hopes” doesn’t mean we would “feel bad” about working for someone else, or that being under an employer is inferior, just that that is our first aim, for many reasons.

  7. Elizabeth K. says:

    My husband homeschools our children, since he is a writer and can work from home (his website: http://www.mrhawthornsgarden.com/blog.html), and we are always amazed at how much better our children retain information when they are learning it in a casual environment. I think this idea of “Table Talk” is a great one to implement!

  8. KTHunter says:

    Good article. I think that conversational learning is applicable in any situation, whether one homeschools or uses a public school. My father often did something like this when we were kids. His favorite topics were history and politics (he’s a WWII history nut), and his focus was not simply facts but reasons and attitudes and his hopes that such horrible things that occurred then would not happen again. He felt strongly that forgetting these things would allow them to happen again. (And it was nice to hear more history… we always ran out of time in history class and rarely got to WWI!!!) There are so many things to learn. The Three R’s are definitely important, but so are the reasons WHY things happen. There are many aspects to education, but “reasons why” are often neglected. Dinnertable conversations are a good way to fill that gap. Also, I’ve always felt that you don’t truly understand a topic (even math) until you can put thoughts into your own words and can “tell a story” (so to speak) about it. Answering the question “so what did you learn in school today?” can really help make those lessons gel (no matter where that school may be).

    • Word Warrior says:

      KT–Very well said. It’s the “thinking education” that has largely been neglected in school…on purpose, in my opinion 😉 and many parents do not fill the gap, unfortunately.

  9. Tricia says:

    Family meals are so important, both for the reasons you give, Kelly, and for others too. I wrote about 10 benefits of eating together as a family, which are all based on research. If you’re interested, you can read it here.

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