There’s a powerful secret we know that builds boys into men of good character. It’s called “eating together”.
It’s so important that it’s what the Skylemar clock revolves around. No need for a wristwatch around here. When the bugle blows, we know it’s time for the happiest of hours - breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Sure, the food’s great, but that’s really not what’s important. It’s the sitting-around-the-table part that makes the difference. The warmth we share while doing something we enjoy connects us as one and demonstrates that we care about each other. It’s fair to say that eating together is a critical piece for building the family unit, whether at camp or at home.
First, Skylemar/family meals are “social networking” as it should be - organic and real. There’s joy in authentic, live communication, especially when accompanied by a hearty laugh. Sorry, but a typed LOL could never compare.
Topics are varied and random (like what song to use for this evening’s “Lip Sync Battle”) and are sometimes directed by an adult, and sometimes not. No matter what, it’s a “timeout” of sorts, giving space to reflect and appreciate what’s happened so far that day.
It’s at the table that life skills are learned and developed. It’s the school of negotiation & problem solving, when there’s one extra piece of cake and six guys who want it. It’s the art of patience when 29 cabins get their food before you. We learn to have respect for others at the table, as well as those who cook and clean. We adhere to the doctrine of making the best of what you have (like if it’s chicken tender day but you only like the french fries). Then again, we also acquire the strength to advocate for ourselves if we really can’t find a solution (like when you don’t like chicken tenders or french fries).
Of course, guys are guys, but they subconsciously realize that manners add richness to the fabric of our lives. Just a "please" and "thank you" is about all you need, and it's still always fine to eat wings with your fingers. It's important to note that using good manners demonstrates how much we care for each other, and the table is a perfect place to practice.
Interestingly, it’s usually healthier to eat together. There’s positive peer pressure to take reasonable portions and maybe, just maybe, try something new.
Most importantly, remarkable things happen without cell phones around. People talk, and they listen. Challenges are discussed and solutions are found. Different points of view are explored and even considered. Adults are in the moment, focused, and kids feel loved. There’s no device sitting on the table which signifies that whoever is on the other end of the phone is more important than those present.
Way back when, the so-called “experts” on summer camp food service told us that kids love to sit wherever they want and prefer to eat outside. We tried it one summer, even listening to the advice to serve breakfast outdoors. But the great “new idea” bombed and was not well received. “When can we eat with our bunk?” they kept asking. “When can we eat inside at our own table again?”
This taught us the lesson that our guys are the experts, not a group of grown-up outsiders. At Skylemar, eating together at the same table with the same people is a pleasant routine – it means coming “home”. A fringe benefit - when we eat together more than once a day, it makes the times when not together special as well.
Sure – it’s a lot of work to cook a family dinner on a regular basis. Someone has to plan, cook and clean. Conversely, those at the table learn to appreciate and care about the chef’s efforts. That’s why Shep makes sure that the Kitchen Crew is celebrated and cheered for. It’s good for our guys to know how much time and energy the chefs put in trying to please Camp Skylemar.
It doesn’t have to be at camp or at home, and a restaurant’s fine. It doesn’t have to be fancy, for most prefer plain and simple. Even a lousy meal gives you plenty to talk about.
Not convinced? Thinking that your schedule’s too busy, and that after-school commitments get in the way? Keep in mind that studies have shown there’s a link between family dinner and good grades, as well as a connection to lower rates of anxiety. Google it and you’ll see.
We turned to the authorities this evening, the guys of Bunk 13, and asked them why regular family meals are important at camp as well as at home. Ethan so intelligently answered, “It’s the chance to spend time with people you love, so why not do it every day?” Enough said.
Heard this today…
“If someone’s having a bad day, they can talk about it at the dinner table and then we understand. It helps them to feel better.” (Ari M, Bunk 13)
Only at Skylemar.