Bad table manners are my pet peeve. I just don't think it is ever too early to teach your children how to behave at the table. I know infants are going to spit food and toddler are going to throw it. Heck my kids could sling the hash browns with the best of them. But the thing is, I made sure they knew it was not desired behavior. No, I didn't punish my 15 month old for intentionally dropping his plate of spaghetti on the floor but I did let him know that what he did was not nice. And I did keep an eye on when he finished eating so I could remove the plate from in front of him before he started removing the food from the plate and onto the floor.
At 5.5 and 3.5, N & G should exhibit good, if not perfect, table manners, with few lapses. I don't mean knowing the correct utensils for each course, but knowing that it is not OK to do certain things. Like constant squirming throughout the meal. Or talking with your mouth full of food. Or practically laying down in your chair. Maybe their napkins do not always stay in their laps, but they do know to use them instead of their sleeves. And maybe they get excited and don't always use "inside" voices but they do know that shouting at the dinner table is not nice. And they always, always say "excuse me" when they burp, although we are currently working on not belching as loud as we can at the table. So while they are not perfect, they do have a good solid base of good solid table manners.
I bring this up because we recently ate a meal with some friends. We had a good time but I had to tell my boys several time during dinner to sit down, turn around, and to chew with their mouths closed. Meanwhile their sweet children were doing the same thing, which my boys quickly pointed out. My friend asked if I was serious about table manners at their age, her children are a couple of years older than mine. And I guess I am. I asked her when she was going to start them with her children, not that I was being snarky, and it was not taken that way. I was just curious as to what she thought was an appropriate age to start teaching them.
So what is more appropriate, teaching from a very early age, or at least laying the ground work with "do not throw spaghetti at your brother while you are at the table" (or anywhere for that matter)? Or waiting until they are a bit older and just springing it on them "I know you haven't heard this before, but we do not eat with our feet on the table"?