Lettuce Learn

LAST Thanksgiving we recalled a national scholarship organization that discovered something surprising about its scholars: The only common denominator in their experience was that their families sat down to dinner together most nights.

That early 1980s study made a lot of sense. It showed how parents unselfconsciously nudged children to talk over life goals, school, homework, and their encounters with various parts of society. A Monitor column at the time brought in heaps of mail from educators and parents.

Now Harvard researchers have reported on results of an eight-year project in which they taped and analyzed just such dinner-table conversations. They reached a more limited but equally intriguing conclusion: that such "dinner-table children" became reliably more literate than their peers.

Like little sponges, dinner-table kids assimilated new and complex words to a greater degree even than children whose parents regularly read to them at an early age. What's more, the young learners generally got more detailed and interactive explanations of the meaning of subjects at the table than at reading-to sessions.

Moral: Parents, even single parents, can run one of life's better learning institutions, with little extra effort. Easy as pie.

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