Saturday, September 13, 2014

Mealtimes, Rituals, and Celebrating Food

As I mentioned in a recent post, we are working on fostering independence and encouraging active participation in Cohort 9.  While there are opportunities all day long to work on these skills, lunch and snack times are particularly special to me and, I think, to the toddlers as well.  I grew up in a family in which mealtimes were an important time to be together and reconnect.  Although I was one of three daughters with busy schedules, we all had dinner together nearly every weeknight.  It didn't hurt that my mom is an amazing cook!  All this means that I hold mealtimes in extremely high regard, as a time for coming together and connecting as a group, and also as a time to learn.

There are many unique things about how we do meals and snacks at Tumbleweed.  For one thing, we don't use sippy cups, which results in a few more spills, perhaps, but also in the acquisition of new skills, a richer experience of the water or milk we are drinking, and a sense of pride in drinking from an open cup like our parents and teachers.

We choose a special song of thanks before we start to serve ourselves and eat.  Our current favorite is "All I Really Need" by Raffi, which goes: "All I really need is a song in my heart, food in my belly, and love in my family!" and has some nice simple gestures to go along with it, so the children can participate even if they aren't ready to sing along.  Taking a moment to sing before we start eating is a way to demarcate time at the table as special and focus our attention on the group, and the yummy food we are so lucky to have in front of us.

Something new to me as a teacher since I started at Tumbleweed is serving snacks and meals family style and having the children serve themselves at the table.  This was also new to my cohort of toddlers, so we have had a lot of fun learning together how to make this practice work best for our group.

Pouring our milk and water from pitchers into our cups has been a particular source of pride, joy, and sometimes frustration for the children.  This was a motion the girls were not particularly familiar with and I was asking them to attempt some precision when they poured.  Seeing each child go through the process of watching me pour, pouring with my hand there to help them support the weight of the pitcher, and then pouring on their own with increasing skill and accuracy has been exciting and fun.  They watch each other closely when they are pouring their milk and water, and cheer when the liquid makes it into the cups.

I continue to help the toddlers to be successful in my set up for pouring water and milk.  I bring a large jar of milk or water to the table and only pour a small amount into the pitcher at a time.  This gives the pitcher less weight and also ensures that the cup won't get too full.  When I pass each child the pitcher I line up the lip of the pitcher with the rim of her glass so she is set up for success. As we build our skills in this area, I will be able to offer new challenges with a heavier pitcher or not lining up the pitcher and cup beforehand.

I am conscious of only helping each child as much as she needs to be helped.  Cohort 9 is gaining the skills they will eventually bring to the preschool cohort, where they will be asked to pour from larger pitchers and to make judgements about how much water or milk to take at a time.  Serving ourselves food and drink is a simple, everyday task, but it involves a combination of complex physical and cognitive skills and it is exciting to see some of the newest Tumbleweeders gaining and building on those skills each day.

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