Last Thursday, Hannah and I found ourselves with not much school to teach and two fewer children than usual, so we tried a dry run of one of our new plans for next school year: inaugurating the concept of "servers" at the lunch table.
Until, now, it has seriously seemed like more trouble than it's worth to have any kids actively assist us with some of the tasks at lunchtime on our co-schooling days. There is a certain investment of training required before the "help" pays off. So while we have had kids (for example) clear their own dishes from the table and such, we haven't had them do much more than that. It has been simpler and more peaceful to get the kids fed, then have lunch ourselves, then clean up, then return to schooling. This is more efficient than it sounds, because I generally need a mental break from teaching in the middle of the day anyway, and it worked fine for that to happen while cleaning up the lunch table.
This year, however, Hannah and I looked at the schedule and realized it wasn't going to work. There just isn't enough time in the day. It is now time to enlist the kids to help us serve and clean up after lunch.
We don't want a free-for-all, and we don't want fights over who will do what. So we decided that each day we will have two servers, one drawn from among the biggest kids and one drawn from the middle-sized kids. Each will wear an apron. Hannah and I will fill a sink with soapy water, we will assemble the plates with the first helpings on them, and we will set up the rest of the food with cups and the milk jug and a pitcher of water on a countertop nearby. Then, the server kids will be responsible for
- calling the other children to the table
- offering the prayer
- bringing the plates to the table
- pouring water or milk (the bigger child only)
- fetching condiments
- fetching second servings
- slicing bread
- making sure spills get wiped up
- cutting stuff up, spreading butter, etc. for the very youngest children
- reminding everyone to scrape their plates and put them in the sink
- returning condiments, milk, and leftovers to the fridge
- clearing the table, sweeping under it if necessary, and readying it for schoolwork.
At the end, the server kids can take off their aprons and be excused only after we've checked that the table is ready to go. Then Hannah and I will get the dishwasher running (it would take too much time to train all the different children how best to load our different dishwashers).
On Thursday, I had made BLTs for lunch, which turned out to be a fairly high-maintenance sort of lunch to kick off the kids-serving-kids program, but it worked pretty well. It was very enjoyable to hear "Mommy, get me some milk" and to get to say, "Remember to ask the 9-year- old." As for Hannah and me, we got to enjoy our lunch sitting down for the first time in a while.
Looking forward to trying it again next week!