Mealtimes can be a great opportunity for children to increase their vocabulary and learn some of the skills that are necessary for engaging in conversations, such as listening to others and taking a turn to talk.
Here are some general suggestions.
Get your children to help prepare part of the meal
There are many opportunities for learning and using vocabulary such as ‘wash’, ‘spread’, ‘tear’, ‘mix’, ‘stir’, ‘rinse’, and ‘peel’. At mealtime, ask each child to tell the rest of the family what they did to help.
Set a good example
Talk about your own day in simple terms. Highlight one thing that you really liked about your day and then ask what each child really liked about his or her day. Telling one good thing about the day could become a routine at every dinner and provides a clear topic of conversation.
Try asking questions
For example, ask: ‘If you could only eat one food for a whole week, what would you eat?’ or, ‘What is the spiciest thing you have ever eaten?’
Give an opinion and ask for opinions
For example, say: ‘Spaghetti and tomato sauce is my favourite meal. What is your favourite meal?’ or, ‘I like apple pie. What is your favourite dessert?’ Don’t forget to give your child enough time to come up with a response. If this kind of question seems difficult for your child, narrow it down by giving a choice. E.g. ‘Do you like ice cream or pudding the best?’
Build your child’s vocabulary by modelling language
Comment on the food: the taste ‘This cookie tastes sweet’, the texture ‘My carrot is crunchy’, the colour ‘I have a red pepper’ and the temperature ‘The soup is hot. You may have to blow on it.’
Talk about who is hungry or thirsty and when everyone is full.
Offer your child small amounts and wait to allow him/her the opportunity to ask for more.
Use category labels such as ‘vegetables’, ‘fruits’, ‘meats’ or ‘grains’.
Talk about where the food comes from and add a comment: ‘We get milk from cows. Remember when we went to see the cows at the Experimental Farm?’ ‘Bananas don’t grow in Canada. They grow in countries where the weather is warm all year.’
Introduce logical thinking skills
For example, ask: ‘We have five people at the table so how many cups do we need?’, ‘What should we do if we spill our milk?’, ‘What happens after we eat lunch?’ and ‘Do we eat our dessert first or last?’
For example, ask: ‘Do you want grapes or yogurt?’ or ‘Do you want a little bit of casserole or a lot?’
Most importantly, keep it as enjoyable as possible
All of us are more likely to want to communicate when we are relaxed and having a good time.
Bronwen Jones, M.A., S-LP, Reg. CASLPO