The Art of Conversation
- 2010 20 Aug
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.
Characteristics of Good Conversation
Talking is easy; however, communicating ideas effectively is a skill that must be learned. Modeling is an important way to teach our children new practices. The best model we have is God, who seeks to communicate with us. Studying His methods is necessary for us to learn and grow in our ability to emulate them within our own families.
The number one characteristic of a good communicator (but probably the hardest to practice) is being a good listener who hears accurately what others are saying. The critical key for the listener is to find areas of connection and mutuality. Teens can be encouraged not to talk about themselves all the time, but to use conversation to discover what makes others tick, their interests, hobbies, etc. In the process, a new friend may be discovered.
Conversation is also benefited when each person does his share in participating and moving the conversation along. It's important not to monopolize a conversation. Knowledge of a variety of topics will prove helpful in contributing to a discussion. Having a nugget of information to share will give your teen a good feeling, a sense of belonging, and confidence in his conversational skills. This may also motivate him to increase and expand the assortment of books he reads.
Another conversation tool for your teen to practice is graciousness: how can she say what she thinks in a tactful way rather than saying what she believes others want her to say? Is there a family member or friend who does not share your teen's ideas regarding an issue currently in the news? Help your teen outline some helpful bullet points, and then invite her to graciously share her thoughts in the near future. Respect for another's opinions will go a long way in helping your teen accept that person and build a relationship with him or her. In the process, if the other's views are counter to scripture, your teen may have the opportunity to persuade her friend to consider biblical truth. Above all, remember to "Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man" (Colossians 4:6).
Promotion of Conversation
How can a homeschool parent foster good conversation on top of teaching all those courses, running the household, and providing for the needs of the children? The good news is that no formal course is necessary to teach this skill. Simply use the opportunities that are in front of you all day long.
When teaching that history course, practice conversing about the topics of study. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are great times to throw out a topic and have your children formulate a conversation on it—from the youngest to the oldest, everyone should be included. (You may wish to ban all technological devices from being used during meals to eliminate interruptions.)
Entertaining will allow your teens to observe how you direct conversation to include all those present, as well as how you handle any controversial topics that may be raised—hospitality is a living laboratory! What you model will be picked up and implemented by your children. You may even hear yourself in their conversations!
We hope that you are excited about improving your teens' conversational skills and that you will experience with them the delight described by Georgia Mills when she said, "Our conversations are a gift I will never tire of opening."
*This article published August 13, 2010.
Becky Cooke and Diane Kummer serve as High School Coordinators for Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and helped develop HSLDA's Homeschooling Thru Highschool Web site four years ago. As former homeschool moms of now-grown children who have graduated from college, Becky and Diane can relate to your good times and bad! Their desire is to help you homeschool through high school with excellence. Most of all, they pray that your homeschooling years are full of joy and the delight of knowing that your investment in your teens is seen and rewarded by the Lord.
This article was originally published in the Jul/Aug 2010 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Sign up now to receive a FREE sample copy! Just click here: http://homeschoolenrichment.com/magazine/request-sample-issue.html