“If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence.” Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child.
“You have to see it to believe it,” is one way to describe 10 toddlers and their teachers enjoying a peaceful, civilized lunch together. A lunch using a tablecloth, dishes, real glassware, utensils, and cloth napkins; not to mention the confidence-building skills of grace and courtesy, independence, socialization, and care of self and the environment.
Process and Expectations
The classroom environment is prepared to allow each child to work at his own pace. Lunch in the YCC classroom is no different. The process is methodical, purposeful, and creates a relaxed atmosphere… after all; these toddlers have been working hard all morning!
From the first day, children are toileted and hands are washed before approaching the table. They sit at the lunch table; their bums are on the chairs, feet under table, and stomachs touching the table. The older children model that behavior and the younger children follow. If you don’t set those expectations, they won’t learn that’s what they’re supposed to do. They’re very capable.
Is set by an adult and a child. One at a time, each piece of a setting is placed. Beginning with the plate and ending with a pitcher. If children have been working on flower arranging, an arrangement may be placed on the table as well
Much like the work mat, a child’s eating space is defined by the outline of each child’s plate, napkin, utensils, cup and pitcher. It inherently creates order, awareness, and a respect for each other’s space.
The Lunch Basket
Is carried by the child from the refrigerator to the table. Inside are toddler-portion nutritious foods in containers that children can independently open and close. All contained foods are emptied on to a plate and enjoyed using real utensils.
Grace and Courtesy
During a Montessori lunch, children are sitting together and napkins are placed in one’s lap. Utensils are used over fingers. Pitchers are passed and more water is poured if asked. An older child may ask a younger one if he’d like more water.
Children are listening to their friends and taking turns talking about what they’re eating. Please and thank you are the most commonly used phrases.
Socialization and Language
For the first time in the day, the class is sitting as a group and engages each other in conversation. Teachers model good questions and answers, building vocabulary.
Children take responsibility for their space and their mess and contribute to the environment by maybe picking something up that’s not theirs.
Uneaten food may return to lunch containers and baskets. Chairs are pushed in. One piece at a time the place setting is brought to the dirty dish cart (spoon, fork, napkin, cup, and pitchers). Food is scraped into the compost bin, and excess water is poured in the bucket. Napkins are deposited in the laundry basket. Baskets are placed on a shelf.
A child may also help a teacher with scrubbing chairs or sweeping the floor.
Some children are preparing for half-day dismissal. Others are preparing for nap. They are all preparing for the process of self-care.
Faces are washed with a wet cloth that then must also be returned to the laundry basket. Toileting is repeated, hands are washed, and indoor shoes placed away in exchange for outdoor ones if children are leaving.
The Results Are Worth The Effort
In our day and age, lunch is important. The children are paying attention to each other and looking each other in the eye. They enjoy a relaxed meal in the company of friends.