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Mealtime chatter helps boost children’s communication skills, suggests a study by the National Literacy Trust.Children whose families sit and talk during meals are more confident, the poll of 35,000 UK children indicates.

Family Eating Lunch Together
Family Eating Lunch Together

But more than one in every four misses out on daily mealtime chats with their families, suggests the poll.

Former EastEnders actress, mother, and literacy campaigner Natalie Cassidy said: “Food is fuel for our bodies. So is conversation for our brains.”

Ms Cassidy urged parents: “Even if you’re strapped for time, make 10-15 minutes to all sit down together”.

Vital conversation

She said “the spoken word and listening back are the first steps on the learning ladder” for her daughter Eliza, three.

Children aged eight to 16, from 188 schools across the UK, completed the questionnaire in their classrooms late last year.

The data suggests that sitting in silence at mealtimes is worse for children’s confidence than not sitting down for family meals at all.

The results suggest that some two-thirds (62%) of those who talk daily with their families at mealtimes feel confident to speak in front of a group, compared with less than half (47%) of those who eat in silence and just over half (52%) of children who don’t sit down for meals.

Some three-quarters (75%) of those who chat at family meals said they felt confident to join in class discussions, compared with 57% of those who sit together to eat but never or rarely talk and just over two-thirds (64%) of those who don’t sit down for meals.

The study also suggests that the majority of children and young people (87%) sit down with their family at mealtimes – but while almost three-quarters (74%) of families chat at mealtimes every day, some 7% said they almost always ate together in silence.

Life skills

Children on free school meals were slightly less likely to report chatting with their families at mealtimes everyday (71%).

The rate for older pupils was also lower – 68% of 14- to 16-year-olds, compared with 76% of 11- to 14-year-olds.

The National Literacy Trust’s Words for Life campaign calls on families to encourage their children’s speaking and listening skills “by taking simple steps like chatting together at mealtimes”.

The trust’s director Jonathan Douglas said: “Our research shows just how vital conversation at home is to the future success of our children and young people.

“Talking and communicating at home, for example at mealtimes, will help children gain the skills they need for a successful and happy life.”

BBC education