Dinner is on the table. Everyone starts eating.
Fin: (Puts his napkin on his head.) Look Ee-i! I’m napkin head!
Eli: (Squealing with delight and putting his napkin on his head.) Me, too!
Me: That’s pretty silly but what are the table rules about napkins?
My question falls on deaf ears. More squealing and napkin antics.
Me: Eli and Fin – napkins on the table. Now.
Eli grabs Fin’s napkin.
Fin: (Unleashing his Fin fury and lunging at Eli.) GIVE ME BACK MY NAPKIN, EE-I!
Milk flies off the table. Eli flies off his chair trying to avoid Fin. Fin is screaming about his napkin. Eli is crying because he fell off his chair.
I needed to reclaim dinner. Like now. The next night when things started getting a little dicey I asked a question. I’m not even sure what it was. Something like, “If you were to make up a new language what would it be called and what would it sound like?” They were intrigued. And we got through dinner without any major issues. So the boys and I made the Question Jar.
Our Giving Jar from last November was such a huge success that I had a hunch that the concept would make a comeback in our household. What kid doesn’t love picking out a piece of paper from a pile and finding out what it says on it? The idea was simple. Fill the jar with questions that would be engaging for both the boys and us. Hopefully we would stimulate dinner conversation and reduce table antics. Maybe?
And so we tried it. Fin picked the first one.
Which was, “If you were in charge of building a park, what would you put in it? What would it look like?”
Although we had to help the conversation along, we probably talked about Eli’s park for at least 10 minutes. He kept adding tunnels. And water. And underwater tunnels with slides and scuba gear. Of course, it would be red and green – his favorite colors.
Night one was a success.
But would they ask about it the next night?
No. They asked about it at breakfast. “Can we do the Question Jar? Let’s do all the questions in there!”
The Question: What would you bring with you on a camping trip?
Eli: Marshmallows! Marshmallows to make s’mores! Yum!
Me: That’s it?
Eli: OH! A sleeping bag?
Me: That’s a good idea. Anything else?
Eli: (Pause.) Nope. That’s it.
Fin: A friendly monster!
So we’re going camping with marshmallows, one sleeping bag and a friendly monster. Note to self: Do not let the boys plan any future camping trips.
We talked for another five or so minutes about camping and breakfast was done. Peacefully and beautifully. Man, I hope the novelty never wears off.
The next night the boys were eager again.
The question: If you could be any animal what would you be and why?
Eli: A great white shark.
Dad: A dolphin.
Me: I think I want to be a seahorse.
Eli: We are all sea animals! Fin could be a tagger! (The scientists who tag sharks for research purposes.)
I learned a lot with the first set of questions about what types work for the boys and what ones don’t. I also learned that most topics require an adult to help it along a bit by asking additional questions and/or making observations – just like many conversations with little ones. And when they didn’t like a question, didn’t want to discuss the question anymore or didn’t want to do it at all, we didn’t.
A few weeks pass and Eli eagerly pulls out a question at dinner. I read it. He groans and says, “That is not a good one.” We try it again. Same result. There’s one left. I read, “What made you laugh today?” “I don’t like any of these! I’m not going to do it,” Eli retorts. “Ok, ” I say, “But was there something that made you laugh today?” “Nothing,” he shrugs. He pauses. He cracks a smile. “Ok, I was laughing so hard when Fin and I were playing lightsaber with the pool noodles. That was soooooo funny. I laughed like this, ” Eli says as he does the most obnoxious fake laugh you’ve ever heard. And the we went around the table and talked about what made us laugh. And we looked at the empty jar. “So do you want me to fill it up with more questions?” “Yeah!” the boys exclaimed. So to all you dinner guests coming our way – get your game faces on. There will be questions. (And post-dinner headstand practice.)
Below are the questions from the first jar and the beginnings of the second jar:
How did you help someone today?
Where did you see kindness today?
If you could be any animal what would you be and why?
What made you laugh today?
What was the most delicious thing you ate today and why?
What was the most interesting thing you learned today?
Describe the weather today. Did you like it? Why or why not?
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Why do ships have to sail in the water?
What would you bring with you on a camping trip?
You’re in charge of building a park. What would you put in it? What would it look like?
If you could have any animal as a pet what would it be and why? Where would we get it? What would we need to take care of it?
Did you fill a bucket today? Did you empty a bucket today? What happened?
What should we grow in our next garden? Why?
What makes you smile?
If you had a big cardboard box, scissors and some pens what would you do?
If you could make up a new superhero what powers would he/she have? How would she help people?
What’s your favorite red food? Orange food? Yellow? Green? Blue? Purple?
What is your favorite holiday tradition?
What’s your favorite time of day? Why?
If you were going on a trip would you rather travel by car, train, boat or airplane? Why?