"Tea Parties that Teach" by Laura Barger (Published in "Parenting Magazine", an online magazine, in January 2013)
"A tea party may seem like an old-fashioned delight that only little girls and dolls enjoy these days. But my co-teacher Sarah and I use regular tea parties in our five-to-eight-year-old classrooms as teaching tools for etiquette and much more. You can do the same.
We start with a basic philosophy: the world is an over-scheduled place, and children need every chance they can get to slow down and look beyond themselves. Our main target is to provide a gracious setting where courtesy comes first. And courtesy begins with others. Politeness is behaving well for those around us.
Picture child-sized tables draped with tablecloths. Each table is laid carefully with small cloth napkins, cocktails forks, tiny spoons, miniature cups and saucers, and a teapot. Child-sized chairs are lined up waiting for guests. Everything is genuine, down to the china cups and teapots and the real silverware, and everything is scaled down to children’s hands. Classical music plays in the background. Dress-ups in the form of boys’ and girls’ hats, jewelry, ties and feather boas adorn a nearby sofa, ready for wearing. Bowls of soapy water, dish towels and drying racks await the clean-up process. Every bit of this array has been set up and arranged by the students, including the sugar cookies they baked yesterday. It is their party. Their sense of ownership and obligation is real.
Of course, it didn’t happen overnight. Sarah and I work for months with the children, supervising at every turn, to build the responsibility that it takes to make our tea parties tick. But the magic always happens. By the end of the school year, imagine our satisfaction when we host a parent-child tea party and the students are able to show their moms and dads what they have learned – napkins on laps, tea and brownies offered to guests first, quiet conversation, mouths not full when talking. And of course… we never leave our spoons standing in our tea cups! Well, hardly ever.
I’m sure you can envision the broken china and spilled tea that go along with our parties. Yes, there is a learning curve, and yes, a healthy serving of patience is required on the part of adults. But using real dishware, despite the risk of breakage, is part of the lesson. Kids learn a greater sense of care when sipping from china than when working with plastic. They come to understand that they are being trusted with the real thing and rise to the occasion. And for moms who might wonder if their rambunctious sons could ever submit to such a girlie affair – a firm expectation of everyone participating works wonders. Some of our most fervent tea party fans have been young gentlemen.
Six years ago, when Sarah first tried to convert me to the cause, I never thought formal tea parties and young children could go together. Now I’m sold. Here’s hoping you might be willing to give tea parties a chance as well."