We have had many requests recently from parents asking for us to expose our daily rhythms and rituals. Although play is of course a big part of what we do at school, it is the seemingly menial tasks that take up the majority of our time. Activities such as toileting, eating, sleeping, and getting ready to go outside are the “in-between'” times when a huge amount of learning takes place.
The classroom agreements that Mage posted in each of the classrooms have been a way for all community members to maintain clear and concise expectations and boundaries during these times. Many of these agreements have been developed very succinctly over the last year but having them written out has helped us to keep clear and reasonable limits with the children. We will often preface a limit by gesturing to the agreements posted in the classroom and saying, “We have an agreement that you stay seated during mealtimes.” The children respect these limits as this represents the greater norm for the school and our community.
I will write a series of blog posts to highlight the seemingly mundane aspects of schoollife– Mealtime, toileting, and outside transition. My hope is that you will see what is expected of your children at school and that you will be able to bridge this to their home life.
Here is a recap of our meal time agreements:
- I wait for food with hands in my lap and a bubble in my mouth. (Children simulate catching a bubble in their mouth)
- When I am eating, I stay in my chair.
- If food or a spoon/ fork falls on the ground, it stays there until the end of the meal.
- If I spill milk or water, a teacher will give me a towel and I can wipe up the spill.
- If I ate my food and want more, I can wait until the next serving is passed out to the group.
- We all bus our dishes at the end of the meal. I take one dish at a time.
- A teacher helps me wipe my hands and face after I eat.
- After I bus my dishes and wipe my hands and face, I can play on the rug.
- All toys and book must be put away before sitting down to a meal.
The children are divided into three smaller group of 5 or 6 for mealtimes. Because nap happens after lunch, the children eat in their naptime groups. After dividing them into their naptime groups and taking them for diapers and handwashing (more on that later) they will eat either in the Elm Room, the Nest, or the Studio. They enter the room and find their seat at the table while the teacher grabs the tray from the kitchen with the food and table settings. The teacher enters the room and encourages the children to “catch a bubble in your mouth and place your hands in your lap!” The children will simulate “catching a bubble” of air in their mouths and place their hands in their laps. They are reminded that no toys or books are allowed at the table during mealtimes. The teacher hands out plates and utensils.Teachers sing the Patient Song while passing out food. Every child is offered everything at mealtimes (unless there is an allergy or dietary restriction of course). If they say they don’t want something we simply say, “You don’t have to eat it but you can try it if you’d like.” As the children are eating their first serving the teacher will engage them in conversation or read a book. If a child wants more of something but they still have other food on their plate, they are asked to wait patiently until the second serving is passed out.
Mealtimes are connection time! We view meals as an opportunity to slow down. We will often read a book or have conversations with the children. Teachers are encouraged to eat as well. Our tables and chairs are child sized with no straps. This allows the children to independently pullout the chair and sit down without the help of a teacher. The children are served food on ceramic plates with metal utensils, and drinking cups with no lids. Drinking in cups is not what most of the children have experienced at home but they can do it! When children are initially learning this skill, we will place a small amount of milk in their cup– a half inch or less– and spills happen. Spills happen with our more experienced children, too and that is OK! When this happens we calmly say, “That happens sometimes. Everyone spills. Here: I have a towel for you, you can help me by cleaning it up.” And they do!
Serving the food is a ritual and one that teachers have begun to take more time with. Megan had the idea that teachers could cut up the fruit at the table with the children (we purchased small knives with a plastic sheath that can be kept in our apron pockets to prevent small hands from getting too curious). I have found that this process has been a great conversation starter with the children. There is value in the children making a bigger connection to our food in it’s whole form. Here is one conversation that I had recently with a group of children as I was cutting up a pear:
Child: you’re taking out the seeds Lainy?
Me: yes! We don’t want to eat the seeds. (I then cut the core in half to reveal the star shaped center with seeds inside) What do you See?
Child: A SEED!
Me: What kind of a plant would grow if we planted this seed?
Children do not answer
Me: Would a tomato grow?
They were certain that a tomato would not grow if we planted a pear seed but weren’t confident to answer that a pear would grow… Lots to explore here 🙂
After multiple servings are given out, the teacher will place the food tray on the floor next to a compost bucket and will say, “If you are done eating, please place the food in the bucket and place your plate on the tray. After you are done bringing over your cup and plate, I have a towel for you to wash your face and hands. You can play quietly on the rug when you are done.” We will place two choices of activities on the rug for the children to play with until the other children are done cleaning up.
All of the children at Elm House– even our youngest community members– are completely capable of these tasks. They know exactly what is expected of them and stay on task easily because all teachers also know and understand these expectations. Your children are capable of so much! I wish that each of you could have the opportunity to be a ‘fly on the wall’ in our school for one day so that you could see the incredible amount of independence and cooperation that we see from your children. Much of this begins with the foundation of clear expectations. I wonder if you have “agreements” for your house? What would an agreement list look like? Could this help maintain clarity around boundaries and limit setting at home too?