Food is inextricably linked with culture and community, and it is an integral part of a Montessori environment. I have seen meals work differently in different communities – sometimes everyone is at one big table, if the space permits, but sometimes it doesn’t, and groups of children are sprinkled around the room. At the beginning of this school year, I was excited to see what my students would prefer. We do have space limitations, but we’ve enjoyed getting creative with the medley of desks, chairs, and miscellany we find around the school.
I soon found that the Adolescents gravitated toward eating at their desks, which are in a semi-circle at the front of our room. They chose not to utilize the snack table near the kitchen area, which was interesting to me. Were they exercising an independence of choice, when and where to eat? Was the table simply too small? Was somebody smelly? Was it me??? Then an interesting pattern emerged. I kept hearing among their conversations, “No, I don’t really eat.” “I never eat breakfast.” “I forgot my lunch again today, ha!” How did we create this culture of not eating? What made them think this is cool, and how can I make them change their minds?
Make food a purposeful part of their day. Set a time and a place for eating. We cleaned out a new room, pushed together desks like a long dinner table, and designated it our Lunch Room. We took a trip to the store (they love getting out and about) and got sets of plates, bowls, glasses, silverware, and placemats for everyone. We all start eating at the same time, and no one leaves until we’re all done. At bare minimum, this teaches table manners and social etiquette. I was afraid I’d get some grunts and groans for making them act too proper.
But when I tell you they love Community Lunch, I mean the LOVE it! They want to start lunch even earlier than usual now, and I find I usually have to encourage them to wrap it up so they won’t miss recess, as much as I absolutely adore their conversations. They fascinate me, always asking questions about each other. They are always hungry to know more about their peers. And to my surprise and relief, the attitudes about eating completely flipped. Every student takes so much pride in what they bring, and we spend much of our time discussing each student and their family’s preferences and cultures.
I learned that part of my job as their guide is to show them what’s important and what creates community. I found that there are some things that are non-negotiable in a successful community, and it turns out eating together is one of them. I think it’s amazing how integral food is to culture, which makes it hard for me to believe that food is strictly fuel for the body. It’s also what brings us together and helps us create and sustain identity. I look forward to taking this idea to the next level and cooking together, which is very much encouraged in the Adolescent Community. Ideally, the Adolescents have their own cottage-like space in which they can really practice the independence of adulthood. What we are growing in our garden will be a wonderful opportunity to bring us together in the kitchen and create something together that we had started from seed, and seen through to finished product on the table. I look forward to seeing how this transforms and encourages our community.
Thank you for your time,
Adolescent Lead Guide