California principal Jacqueline Sanderlin picked up the tab. And not for books or educational toys. She picked up the tab for dinner because she decided that “exposure is the key to education. "
And it wasn't just any dinner either. She bussed seven students who'd been participating in her after-school etiquette program to one of the swankiest restaurants in Beverly Hills-Lawry's The Prime Rib. They sat at Table 46.
Not bad, considering that kids at George Washington Carver Elementary in Compton qualify for free lunches the rest of the year.
Sanderlin's definitely on to something. Dining is not only a great socializing experience for your kids, it's education in the broadest sense. Let the critics complain about kids and babies taking over restaurants (which they do, loudly, of late). Instead, let's count the ways that dining out qualifies as learning.
The neat stuff on the table
The glasses, the cutlery, the table linens. You want to freak out and tell the kids not to touch anything, right? Don't do that. Look at what's on the table and pick up whatever is unbreakable. Touch it and turn it around. The kids at Lawry's noticed how heavy the cutlery was. See any butter curls? Ask your child to figure out how they were made.
Toast each other
Once water arrives, clink your glasses for a toast. Your kids may be interested to learn that toasting started in Ancient Greece. The toaster would always take the first sip to prove that the drink was not poisoned! Toasting each other means wishing each other good fortune and good health.
The language of food
Looking at the menu with kids can open up a new world. Read the words together and sound out those in other languages, and invite your child to repeat them. If you know the language, you could also translate. Tiramisù, for example, means “pick me up" in Italian, referring to the caffeinated cocoa and coffee in that yummy dessert.
Ask and learn
Encourage your child to ask questions about the foods on the menu and ask the waiter questions as well. If you dine at off-peak hours, staff are often willing to tell you more about the dish, its history, and how it's prepared.
Offer new flavours
There isn't a better way to introduce kids to new foods than to have them prepared by someone who really knows what he or she's doing in the kitchen. Once dinner arrives, offer small samples of the dishes to each other. I was searching for hummus today at our local grocery store but I happened to be intercepted by someone offering samples of tofu dip. Guess which one I chose in the end-just because she offered it.
You already know the rules about keeping kids occupied when you dine (paper, crayons, portable games, cards). But distraction isn't the only method of keeping kids happy in a restaurant. Next time you're ready to splurge, pick a place where you can sink your teeth into the experience. Your kids will remember it.
The kids from George Washington Carver sure did.
Jessica Pegis is an author and consultant specializing in learning resources kids. She is the mother of 10-year-old Simone, her sternest critic and loudest cheerleader. Sign up today for KidSmart, her FREE e-zine, by going to http://www.talkplaythink.com Tips, games, and other fun (and brainy) stuff to do with kids.