Montessori Eating: An Everyday Celebration

In Montessori classrooms or households, mealtimes with young children look a bit different than the majority of individuals might expect.  Teachers, parents and caretakers, commonly provide young children with unbreakable plastic ware to use in a high chair that places them a bit of a distance from the table.

However, the Montessori approach does not differentiate between the children's and grownups' way of eating.  A sense of independence and community is instilled in children by allowing them to sit at the table as opposed to sitting in a highchair and giving them child-size editions of real tableware.  Using the child-size versions ensures that children will not have trouble handling glass or ceramic plates, bowls, cups and silverware.  

There is definitely a chance that some glasses and plates may get broken while children practice their balance skills when carrying them.  However, having breakable dinnerware enables children to realize they are trusted and provides them with the opportunity to experience natural consequences. Children who are aware that the plate will break if it is thrown on the floor and they will be required to help with picking up the pieces, typically learn more quickly social graces at the dinner table.

Even at a young age, children can learn to be respectable about handling breakable objects.  With careful observation and guidance, children will learn how to measure the weight of drinking glasses and learn the proper way of putting them on the table.  You can buy small inexpensive glasses that you will not mind getting broken during the process of learning. However, in the long run, kids can completely skip things like plastic plates and "sippy cups" in favor of real yet child-size tableware.

Typically, children who attend Montessori schools eat in their classroom environment.  However, eating in the classroom is not a scrunched up, desk-eating kind of affair. The environment is transformed during the lunch break and students play an essential role in setting-up and cleaning-up processes.  This allows them to gain ownership over their meals.  

The time spent setting the table for fellow classmates and the rearrangements of the silverware and plates assist these children in figuring out ways to work cooperatively to create elaborate arrangements.  This provides the children with a sense of pride, belonging and accomplishment when their friends show appreciation for the effort they put into getting the place ready for eating.

In the Montessori schools, children use glass cups, eat off real plates, using cloth napkins and metal silverware. In addition, these children practice pouring maneuvers in a progression of various pitchers until the 2 and 3-year-olds develop the ability to pour their own beverages and serve snacks to themselves and even others.  You can try this exercise at home with your young child and see how long he or she takes to master the act of pouring with precision.

When young children are empowered to carefully handle real materials a foundation of responsibility and care is created that will last for a lifetime.

The best way of getting dinner cooked is not by sending children to other spaces around the home to play with their toys; the best way is to get them involved in the process.  For a 2-year-old, that could mean getting him or her to peel vegetables. A 5-year-old could be taught to measure quantities for a specific recipe.  

It is widely encouraged for parents to include kids as young as 18 months in the process of cooking.  There is a clear philosophy - all children, with practice and preparation, have the potential to become healthy and happy eaters.  Getting children involved gives them a sense of pride when their food is served to others at the table.

Eating is among the first social experiences kids have in a school setting.  As such, it is extremely essential to celebrate it each time families and friends come together.  A beautiful table setting, engaging in conversations, sharing, gathering together and being a community are all a part of lessons associated with eating.  All of these acts combine to create an everyday celebration of this very important ritual and time-honored tradition. With all of the senses fully engaged, this provides a great way to enjoy food and fellowship with our loved ones.

Wonderland Montessori