Before your family leaves the dinner table this year, raise your fork and demand a story! Try this conversation-starting activity.
Start a New Tradition
This old storytelling game has been around forever, but it just might do the trick when the kids have cleaned their plates and are ready to fly out the door again.
Just ask: "Did everybody use a fork?"
They'll all nod.
"Good. If you just used a fork, then you owe the cook a magic memory. I will now unveil The Talking Fork."
Puzzled looks will follow.
"I cooked this meal. And before we all leave, I want to hear some good, fun, magic family memories. Here's the Talking Fork. I'll go first." Then pick up a fork around which you've tied a ribbon a nice, big serving fork is good for dramatic effect and begin.
A Fork with a History
This is a variation on the "Talking Stick," a very ancient human speaking tradition. In Homer's Iliad, warrior kings pass the ribboned staff, giving one another room to speak. Native Americans still pass the Talking Stick from storyteller to storyteller.
In any event, use a fork. It's only a symbol, but a potent one. You can say, "This fork, although it appears ordinary, for this meal only imbues the user with storyteller power. It gives the gift of the silver tongue. While you hold this fork, memories will flow through you. While you hold this fork, everyone will listen."
There's nothing a child likes better than having people whom he loves, especially adults, listen only to him.
Mom and Dad, and grandparents if they're around, can model how it's done for the kids. Try stories about your childhood. The kids will love that. Or stories about how someone (great-grandparents, for instance) had quirks, funny sayings, or adventures. Or you can tell stories about your own children. How they behaved as tempestuous toddlers and the origins of their pet names. Or maybe what happened the day they were born.
Once the kids realize that telling a story like this is simply remembering things and talking about them in their own words, they'll jump in.
Praise the Forkholder
Oh, and one other thing. Applaud as each person finishes, no matter what he or she says. Short story, long story, impressive story, or simply a wisp of recollection doesn't matter. Applaud anyway.
Then sit back and enjoy the stories.