Clearing the Dishes – An Act of Interdependence

What are the best times of the day for you and your children to really take each other’s ideas in? For us, its mealtimes. First, because Greysen is there for such a good chunk of time, and secondly because we are all pretty happy getting to eat and relax together.  I think that is why so many of the choices we make or the goals we have for Greysen are practiced around mealtimes.

As I have mentioned before, I try to offer Greysen the experiences she would have in the classroom, were she in one. Clearing your dishes after a meal or snack is fairly common practice in high-quality group care settings.

In school, clearing dishes or tossing your leftovers in the trash is encouraged. Such practices promote independence and personal responsibility.  Encouraging children to take responsibility for themselves in a classroom setting is really essential to its organization and overall success. Teachers can’t pick up after 12 young toddlers all the time, can they? Well, they do, but . . . back to my point.

I think the same is true for the family. As important as it is to offer opportunities for our children to do things on their own, I also think its important for them to do things on their own because of the impact it has on others. At the heart of it, clearing the dishes reflects a level of responsibility, but in time it’s my hope that this routine will evolve to be an act of consideration for others, in addition to the act of just taking on this responsibility.

Beyond Independence
In contrast to the expectation of developing solely independent skills, I am encouraging Greysen to do things on her own, along with a simple explanation of the impact her actions have on us, her family. She is, after all, not necessarily an independent person, but rather an interdependent one.

My explanations are simple, logical, and often tangible. When I ask Greysen to put her dishes in the bin, I ask her to do so that I can wash them and they can be ready for when she, Dad, or I need to eat off of them next time. This unforeseen benefit of Gracie not using “kiddie” dishes, but rather the same dishes that we use, makes this explanation true and meaningful to her.

This type of comment reflects her connection to the rest of her familiar, as opposed to a comment emphasizing independence such as, “Can you put your dishes away so that you can go play?”

In the book, Next Steps Toward Teaching the Reggio Way: Accepting the Challenge to Change, by Joanne Hendrick, she describes the expectation the adult community (teachers, parents) have of the children in the classroom:

“The high level of cooperation is made possible precisely because of such thoughtful organization.”

At home, “thoughtful organization” in this situation for us means Greysen using a bin that she can put her dishes and napkin in when she has finished, and the consistency of being encouraged to do so.

Clearing her place means Greysen has a chance to:
1.  Do things on her own, which is something she can’t get enough of these days.
2. Take responsibility for herself and her actions.
3. Be considerate of her family’s needs. Though this is a concept she may not yet grasp, she is capable of taking the steps that will hopefully one day lead her there.

Unfortunately, I started filming this video after prompting Greysen to clear her dishes. In this instance, she needed a few reminders throughout the process. Sometimes she clears her place without needing any prompts, other days she needs more explanation as to why its important for her to try at all.

Acknowledging  the Interdependent Child
Children simultaneously need help from others sometimes, and absolutely refuse help at other times. Isn’t it the same for us? To respond to the expanding needs of the toddler in our house, we are giving her the time she needs to do the things she wants to do on her own, and also creating opportunities for her to do things that we believe she is capable of doing.  However, we also respond to the dependent being that she is and help her when she asks.

I hope that the connections we talk about while having breakfast will help Greysen understand that picking up after herself is helpful, but more importantly it is a meaningful way for Greysen to contribute to our family’s general well-being. However, I’ll save this level of explanation for somewhere down the road.

Soon, I think she’ll be ready to wash her dishes once in a while. I’m not yet sure how to start going about this.  Anyone out there do this with their toddler on a regular basis?

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