When we think of art, the disciplines of drawing, painting, and sculpting come to mind. All of these mediums stir our senses in a variety of ways. Similarly, the art of conversation awakens our senses as well as our minds and emotions. Through conversation, our relationships will be enriched and our educations furthered.

As with other art forms, conversation (of which communication is only a part) has to be developed through practice. So what exactly is conversation? Wikipedia defines it as "communication between multiple people." The family unit fits this definition, and it is the first place where children are introduced to conversation.

We've found that homeschool families are particularly interested in maintaining communication during the teen years. They have the opportunity to build good conversation skills because of the amount of time spent together. But even in the homeschool environment, there are increasing hindrances to communication. Outside activities, time pressures, and newer technology (iPods, computers, cell phones, texting, instant messaging) are all factors with which families must compete.

Reasons for Conversation 

Because of these obstacles, fostering opportunities for good conversation is a more important task than ever before. Staying in touch with your teens helps you learn about their goals in life, their dreams, their fears, and their aspirations. It expands the relationships between family members at home and apart.

Conversation is also a medium to exchange ideas and learn from one another. If you've read the original version of Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, you will recall their father's insistence that topics discussed around the dinner table always be of mutual interest. This is still good advice to keep conversation from degenerating into a sermon, lecture, or debate. Good conversation in a relaxed setting aids digestion! More importantly, it fosters a safe environment for our teens to participate with the family. Conversation brings people together.

The most logical conversation time for most families is mealtime. Homeschool families have the advantage of routinely setting aside time to eat together. If Dad works outside the home, meals are a time when he can learn about each person's day and tell about his own. They are the time to lay the foundation for faith, to discuss philosophical viewpoints, or to hone a biblical worldview. If gathering for meals is difficult for your family, we encourage you to diligently set aside a specified time to be together simply to engage in conversation.

If you spend time in the car transporting your teen to co-op, sports practice, or music lessons, suppress your desire to turn on the radio for the latest weather report or talk radio snippet. Instead, engage your teen in a topic of interest. It may be a current events issue, a discussion of the latest political campaign, or simply a "What's on your mind?" question.  Ask open-ended questions that will initiate further discussion. This may be difficult at first, should your teen not be interested in conversing, but be patient and persist in thinking of topics that will give you and your teen a chance to banter.

Conversation also enables us to communicate with people of all ages. Ability to interact across generational lines often distinguishes homeschoolers from other children. In return, they develop a social network and are able to learn communication skills from those other than their peers. How is this characteristic developed? In the homeschool environment, children of all ages interact with each other and with adults, providing daily, natural opportunities for intergenerational communication in the family, with a support group, or even at homeschool conferences.

You can also be deliberate about such interaction. For example, enhance your teen's education (and improve his conversational skills!) by having him interview people who have lived through experiences relevant to his course material. Seek out a Korean War vet to chat about his recollections of the war, or make math come alive by having your teen invite a next-door scientist to explain how he uses math in real-life applications and experiments. On the other end of the spectrum, your teen may have the opportunity to tutor a younger child, learning how to explain ideas clearly and simply.