Ten two-year-olds, two teachers, and two tables shaped like a rainbow. Twelve spoons clinking against twelve bowls of cereal. Twelve little voices chatting. There is no pressure to hurry.
The teachers sit in the groove of the table that face the children. Each teacher takes cues from the children about the next topic of conversation. Who has a pet? Whose mommy has a baby in her belly? Who drove you to school this morning? They discover differences and similarities about their families, their mornings, their interests. They are silly and serious. Some are entirely focused on eating and others are listening to the sound of their cereal crunching under their spoons.
Neither teacher says, Be careful. Don’t spill. Lean over your bowl. Don’t dribble the milk. Don’t make a mess. Both teachers are eating with the children. Both teachers are engaging in conversation with the children that is geared toward learning about themselves and each other. It feels comfortable and cozy, where the children are respected and valued.
Any redirecting language is prompted by behavior that is potentially unsafe. Redirections are delivered in a gentle yet firm way, focusing on the children’s relationships to one another and how the behavior impacts each person involved. When you kick your friend under the table, I feel nervous that he will be hurt and that will make you feel sad.
Every morning at Verner Center for Early Learning, children and teachers share breakfast together. The shared meal first thing in the morning sets the tone for the day, creating a feeling of family and community. It also provides an opportunity to reinforce community and developmental skills in a way that is natural and fun. Anna Peterson, a teacher in the one to two-year-old class, echoed this sentiment when she shared that mealtimes provide yet another opportunity to guide the children in a natural way through modeling and talking about topics they are learning in other parts of the day.
The teachers are intentional about their focus on the sense that each child’s presence is valued and honored. As they eat breakfast, they are experiencing different textures and discovering what they like and don’t like. As the children are able, depending on the age of the classroom, they help pass out the plates, bowls, and utensils and at the end of the meal, they clear their own plates and bowls and put them in a bin to be washed. They enjoy being in community together.
Theresa DiAmario, a 2-3 year old teacher at Verner East says of this special time, “The children see us listening to their peers and really engaging with the things they have to say. I feel as though this is important because it teaches them that their stories and experiences are meaningful and worth talking about.“ Shelby Ward, who teaches with Theresa says that the breakfast time grounds the group together and centers the class for the rest of the day. Grounding is important after separating from their grown up which can be a stressful time regardless of the child’s age. First thing in the morning, the classrooms at Verner, are energetic and buzzing. Children bring their feelings and excitement into the classroom. The shared meal after Morning Meeting and the transition to school helps to get everyone grounded and prepared for a day of learning and growing together. It’s a check-in before the day is in full swing, and a reminder that, “Hey, we all matter and we care about one another.”
The shared respect and care spills out of breakfast into the next part of the morning. A few kids are sitting on and around Theresa’s lap reading Dragons Love Tacos. One child is absorbed in water play with Shelby, one is filling a bag with toys and pretending to go on a trip and another is building a castle with a set of magnatiles. There is no pressure to perform and the teachers are engaged during free-playtime in a way that encourages exploration, creativity and connection.
Verner’s breakfast time is one small but important building block of what makes Verner a model for high-quality education for early learners. The value of breakfast as a community-building practice can’t be fully measured but all one needs to do is sit in on breakfast at Verner to feel it’s magic and to understand how it sets the tone for a supportive and learning-rich day.