Written by Dr. Steve Whitaker, Head of School

Every parent knows that all schools—public and private alike—have no shortage of standardized tests. The pressure that students feel to succeed on these tests has created a $5 billion cottage industry of test prep companies, self-help books, and study aids, yet the most potent tool to increase test scores is much more readily accessible than any of these items and it will surprise you. The answer is family dinners. That’s right, eating dinner with your kids produces better test scores. There are many other benefits to family dinners, but this one is particularly intriguing.

Dr. Natalie Holter, an outstanding faculty member at TFA, shared this fascinating research with me recently. Cornell University conducted a meta-analysis of student success looking for common factors which might positively contribute and found that frequent family dinners had a strong correlation—too strong, in fact, to be mere coincidence. The researchers found that “children who take part in family meals are less likely to be overweight, eat more healthy food, have less delinquency, greater academic achievement, improved psychological well-being, and positive family interactions” (Cook & Dunifon, 2012, p. 2).

Specifically, the academic benefits have been fairly well documented. In families that eat together, students achieve higher grades, improved vocabulary and reading skills, and improved standardized test scores.

Tricia and I have made it a practice to have dinner together at least four or five nights per week with our children, all of whom played on athletic teams or participated in the arts. It hasn’t always been easy and some weeks we have failed miserably. But more often than not we hit our goal and we are better for it. Here are some suggestions to make the experience most beneficial.

  • Banish electronics. Put away your cell phone (Tricia has to remind me to do this). Let calls go to voicemail. Eliminating these sorts of distractions will allow you to pay attention to what really matters—your family.
  • Focus on positives. Talk about the good things that happened during the day, not the problems. Find something to laugh about.
  • Be Flexible with your Schedule. Make sure everyone in the family is there if at all possible—so eat after practice, after work, after school. You want meals to become a time everyone looks forward to.
  • Repeat frequently. While having a family dinner every single night might be impossible, you do want to aim high. Researchers say that families that eat together at least three or four nights a week are most likely to see the most benefits.

The importance of family togetherness cannot be overstated, and of course, comes as no surprise to Christ-followers. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Setting the example at the dining room table is a great place to start.

Cook, E., & Dunifon, R. (2012). Do Family Meals Really Make a Difference? Parenting in Context. Retrieved from https://www.human.cornell.edu/sites/default/files/PAM/Parenting/Family-Mealtimes-2.pdf