by Audrey Butters
First, let me remind you that I am a parent like you. I do my best, but my home is far from perfect. I do what I can, when I can, which is all we can really do, isn’t it? And I always strive to do better…a baby step at a time!
Small plates, glasses and utensils are a great step to continuing Montessori meal times at home. After writing the post meal time: lunch routine, I wanted to share what we do at our house. We have a low cabinet in our kitchen island devoted to our children’s dishes. Having dishes available in a low cabinet encourages independence. My daughter doesn’t have to ask for a plate for her snack or my son for a cup to help himself to a drink of water. In our cabinet, you’ll find small juice glasses on the top shelf. On the next shelf, we have a utensil holder with small forks, spoons and butter knives next to child-sized, porcelain bowls. On the bottom shelf, we have a stack of porcelain salad plates. Real plates, bowls and glasses portray to the child “You are trusted” and build confidence. Children learn grace from handling fragile items carefully, learn consequences when they have to clean up a broken item, and learn community when the classroom or home water pitcher is broken and they have to wait for a replacement. They also enjoy the beauty and responsibility of using real dishes, just like the grown-ups.
Real plates, bowls and glasses portray to the child “You are trusted” and build confidence.
We buy nearly all of our children’s dishes, cups and utensils at Cost Plus World Market. Not only are their prices reasonable, but there is a store near my house which makes buying replacements easy. They also carry consistent stock of their Coupe Dinnerware Collection so I don’t have to worry about matching styles. For Small Hands, Amazon and Crate & Barrel are all great resources as well.
We buy the Coupe Salad Plates for our children. This classic, bright white porcelain plate is 8.25” in diameter, and is both breakable and child-sized. At $2.99 each, it doesn’t hurt me so much when one breaks. And they will break – it’s part of learning! Allowing children to make mistakes is essential in an authentic Montessori environment, and a reason breakable items are used. I recently had to buy a few more plates for our house, and I contemplated buying some fancy, decorative plates. I wanted my kids to feel special with the fancy dishes, but realized that, at $7.99 a plate, I would have a harder time not making a big deal when one broke. So, I got two special plates for snacks or dessert, and stuck with the Coupe plates for meals.
Coupe Cereal Bowls are another great deal at $2.99 a piece. At 5.5” in diameter, they are a good size for the kids. They are sturdy porcelain and have a wide base to prevent tipping. You could probably find smaller bowls for smaller children, but we’ve used these for our kids starting at a year old and my 6 year old is still using them.
When our children were interested in utensils – around 6-8 months of age, they were given real, metal utensils. At that age, we gave them these Gerber utensils with thicker handles. Infants love figuring out how to use a fork to skewer food and bring it to their mouth. Around 2 years of age when their hand coordination is improved, we gave them real, stainless steel utensils. Also from Cost Plus, we buy the Slate Salad Forks and the Slate Teaspoons. Our child-sized butter knives are the Luna Cocktail Knife, and it coordinates with the fork and spoon except for the mirrored finish. We don’t mind. At $1.99 each, they are a great deal, especially when you can get them on sale! Another option is For Small Hands, but their utensil set is approximately $15 per set, so I prefer my local, less expensive option.
From the age when an infant can sit independently and hold a cup, a small shot glass or glass votive holder is a great choice. Shot glasses are made of thicker glass than other cups which makes them safer, but they will still break if your child decides to throw it on the floor! It is important that the glass is the right size for your child’s hands. From one year on, my children used the Picardie Bistro Glasses. They are small at 3.25 ounces, they have faceted sides which makes them easy for small hands to grasp, and they are affordable at $1.99 each ($7.96 for a set of four). I’ve also had luck finding these glasses at TJ Maxx for an even better deal. At 3 years of age, the child is ready for a bigger glass. My three year old daughter is tired of the “baby glasses” now and is using the same glasses as my six year old. A few good options for glasses include these from Amazon (Solar 7 oz. Juice Glass $2.98 ea) and these at Crate & Barrel (pictured – Ring 7 oz. Juice Glass $0.95 ea). We most recently bought the Picardie Bistro Glasses in 7.75 ounces from Cost Plus for $3.49 a piece.
Placemats and Napkins
Children take pride in creating a beautiful table, and cloth napkins and placemats bring a lot to the table! Unfortunately, this is one area where we are not consistent at our house. I’d like to change that, but I need to make some small placemats! I sewed the placemats and napkins for my son’s class – and I will be doing this again soon, so look out for a post on this! We do have cloth napkins, and we use them on and off. I like cloth because it reduces waste and is more visually appealing. In my son’s lower elementary class, he brings his own cloth napkin in his lunch box. It was an easy step and I can only imagine how much daily lunch waste was reduced in his classroom.
We have quite the collection of small pitchers at our house. We pour a small amount of syrup into our 1 oz. acrylic creamer pitchers so that our kids can pour their own syrup on pancakes without drowning them. We have pitchers from 5 – 10 oz. that the kids can fill with water for meals. They love being able to easily refill their glasses when they’ve emptied them at the table. Cost Plus, Crate & Barrel and For Small Hands are all great resources – look for creamer pitchers as a starting point. When first introducing a pitcher, make sure it is small and clear, so that the children can easily watch the level of the liquid inside. In the Montessori classroom, children practice pouring with rice or lentils first, as in the picture of the Rice Pouring Activity from Montessori Services. Then they move on to liquid in a clear pitcher. As the child has more experience, he will become ready for an opaque porcelain pitcher.
When taking this step to provide a prepared mealtime environment, it is important to remember that your children will need lessons on how to treat these fragile items. If they are already attending a Montessori school, your child’s teacher will have presented these lessons, so using these items at home will be natural. If your child has not attended a Montessori school, please read my post on lunch time to read about how a Montessori classroom sets the table for guidance.
My advice? Take baby steps.
- If you have plastic dishes for your children, start by giving them a cupboard to keep them in.
- When you’re ready, consider ceramic or porcelain plates and bowls.
- If your child still uses a sippy cup, start giving him a real cup. If you aren’t comfortable with glass right away, give them a plastic cup without a lid.
- When introducing a cup without a lid, start with a small amount of liquid. Kids that are used to sippy cups tend to dump the liquid on themselves the first few times, but they learn quickly!
- Eventually you will see that your child is ready for the responsibility of glass.
Each and every step matters, so start somewhere!