Washing Dishes is Belonging
Thoughts & Reflections
Social Cohesion is a term in Montessori that speaks of the important social development happening in a classroom — children looking out for one another, helping and being respectful, that the desires of the individual never outweigh the needs of the group.
With most of the children returning to the same classroom year after year, most of the class knows how to operate, how to work together and individually, which work is available and how to use it, how to have snack, or see if the bathroom is available, or ask your lunch partner for help opening your yogurt.
There are always new children, though, who come in wide eyed, truly “kids in a candy store,” touching everything, opening every box, because wasn’t that exactly what this space was designed for, for children to explore and discover and learn?
We usher them in. We rely on those older children, so upset that the new child took, horrors, TWO scoops of snack, with the aid of, “He just doesn’t know, would you be willing to help him?”
The child is in a foreign world, but is aided along by older peers, children eager to help, happy to usher him into this new way of being in community. In addition to the group accepting a new person, with all his delights and foibles, the individual has to figure out how to be part of this group, nuanced social norms and all.
Children want to belong. We’re pack animals, hard-wired to want to be part of the tribe, our family, a social group.
Actions represent full ownership in the group.
There’s a material in the classroom, called Dish Washing. After snack, a child brings their plate over to a tub, where they are collected and wait for some helpful individual to clean them
This is a big work. We need warm water for washing, cool water for rinsing. We need just a couple drops of soap. There’s a long sequence of work, lots of steps to follow, and potential for a big mess.
And yet, this is a work typically shown to quite a young child, perhaps three or three-and-a-half. It’s wonderful to carry that heavy, big pitcher so carefully across the room you don’t spill a drop. The self-control exerted to just drop a bit of soap into the warm water, rather than the whole bottle and create a mountain of suds, is difficult but deeply satisfying.
Most importantly, the pride that fills a child when they’ve washed a large stack of plates, plates a whole classroom of friends have enjoyed snack on, plates a six-year-old walked over and said “thank you” to you for washing, that pride is immeasurable.
It is so precious to see a child waiting in their apron next to the Dish Washing work, wanting to wash just one more plate. Scrubbing a dear friend’s plate extra diligently. Sighing with no small level of exhaustion after not only cleaning all the plates, but also tidying the work, pouring the water out, picking up any drips and spills, not leaving one bubble or drop behind.
Just like that, with this small contribution we adults would consider a chore, you belong. These are your people, and you’re fully part of the group.
Written by:Charlotte Wood