Monday, February 10, 2014

A dinner conversation jar.


A couple of years ago, I put some questions on little pieces of paper and put them all in a big jar. This was an attempt to improve our dinner conversation, which at that time consisted mainly of tense exchanges between my husband and me about our home renovation project, while our three-year-old and newborn made unhappy noises.

So we started using the dinner conversation jar, and by "jar," I mean, "old plastic Lego container that came from the thrift store." Usually, it was our three-year-old's job to choose the question from the jar, then one of us would read it out loud, and we all tried to answer the question. Unless we didn't like the question. We always had the option to "pass."

It worked. 

The Dinner Conversation Jar
We don't use our dinner conversation jar every day, and there are no hard-and-fast rules. We can draw as many or as few questions as we want during the meal. We're allowed to fish around until we find a question we like. We can make up our own question. And if we get sidetracked on another, tangentially related topic, well, the conversation jar has accomplished its purpose.

I recently replenished the jar with new questions. Some of the old ones were duds. Also, I wanted to more-or-less standardize the size of the paper strips, so that the little ones weren't always getting lost down at the bottom, while the big ones hogged the conversation space.

You can see my new set of questions toward the end of the post, and you can get the pdf here. This collection of questions that I pulled from my mind could surely be made more thoughtful and balanced. For example, the topics of fantasy/time travel and food might be a bit overrepresented, and I'm probably leaving out an entire category of rich questioning, because I just didn't think of it. (If you have suggestions, feel free to include them in the comments section.)

But speaking of time travel, our five-year-old got this question the other day:

His answer? He'd like to go back in time to see Martin Luther King. YES! All that MLK Day celebrating we did paid off, and for that one moment, I felt like a successful parent.

So, here are the questions:

  • If you could travel back in time, what time and place would you choose to visit? What would you do there?
  • If you could have a day to do whatever you wanted, wherever you wanted, what would you do?
  • If you could have any dessert right now, what would you choose?
  • What was the best part of your day today?
  • Imagine that you are an expert robotics engineer. Describe the robot that you would design and build.
  • What is your favorite part of today’s dinner?
  • Is there a flavor of ice cream that you’ve never tried, that looks delicious? Or a flavor you’d like to invent?
  • If you could jump into a book and be a part of the story, what book would you choose, and what would you do?
  • Is there anybody that you’d like to invite to our house for dinner soon?
  • What is your favorite holiday food? What is your favorite holiday tradition?
  • What do you like best about this time of year?
  • Is there anybody you know that needs some cheering up? What do you think our family can do to help?
  • Name an ancestor that you would like to meet. What would you say to him/her? What would you do together?
  • Is there something that you’ve never done, or haven’t done in a long time, that you’d like to try?
  • If you were stranded on a desert island and you could bring anything, as long as it all fits in a backpack, what items would you bring?
  • If you could visit any country in the world, which would you choose? (Imagine an all-expenses-paid trip.)
  • What is your favorite room in our house? Why? What do you like best about our house?
  • Did you see somebody do something kind today? What was it?
  • Is there a hobby that you’d like to spend more time on?
  • Is there a book that you’ve been wanting to read?
  • If you could build anything you wanted, what would it be?
  • Are there any trips that you think our family ought to go on this year?
  • What was the hardest thing you did today?
  • Did anything weird or surprising happen today?
  • Is there a movie that you’ve been wanting to see?
  • If you suddenly had one hundred million dollars, what would you do with it?
  • Do you have any projects that you daydream about for our house or yard? Ex: a gazebo, a tree-house, a mural
  • What natural wonder of the world would you like to visit? Would you like to visit the North Pole? The bottom of the ocean? Would you like to go into space?
  • What famous moment in history would you like to witness?
  • What superpower would you choose to have?
  • Imagine that you could be any animal you want for one day. Which animal would you like to be?
  • Say something that you appreciate about a member of our family.
  • Do you have any good ideas for a party? What would you do? Where would it be? Whom would you invite?
  • What famous person would you most like to have a conversation with? What would you talk about?
  • Would you want to be famous? Why or why not? What would you most want to be famous for?
  • What sort of Magic Schoolbus trip would you most want to go on with Miss Frizzle?
  • Is there a skill that you’d like to learn, or a trait that you’d like to develop?
  • If you were to start a club or an organization, what would it be? What would you do together?

An aside about two-year-olds: When we first started the conversation jar, our younger son, who was a newborn at the time, did not join in the conversation. Now he's two, and we don't have any special toddler-oriented questions. We sometimes ask him a simpler, related question, and he's allowed to take a turn drawing the question from the jar, regardless of whether he understands the words on the paper. So far, the most fun that he has ever had with the conversation jar was when I let him cut up the old questions into tiny pieces before I threw them away.

UPDATE: My husband reminded me that the idea for our conversation jar was sparked by The Food Nanny, a show on byutv.


  1. Fantastic idea! As a "newly rejuvenated couple" (caused by various events) sometimes our dinner table conversations sound more like calendar checks and long times of quiet reflection (not necessarily bad items either way), but this has sparked our imagination. Love the questions!

  2. I would love for us to do a version of this on our trip!