The educators at Aðalþing Playschool have taken time to think about lunch a great deal... how to create an opportunity for democracy around the lunch situation. They have opted for a dining room so that the children can continue with their play in their rooms and not have to put table top activities to the side/tidy up in order to have lunch. The children can choose when they want to eat as long as it is within the lunch time frame - and they have designed the dining room to seat 29 children, but only 26 can come at a time, as there should always be a choice of where to sit for every child, even the one that comes last. If the dining room is full, it is just to come back a little later.
The children are also free to take their own food from the buffét, as much or as little as they need (of course they get support from teachers with encouragement to try new things, and to take the amount their body needs.) The children are also free to stay for as long as they like... this encourages the children to sit and talk at the tables, and for those busy with other things or do not like to sit for long periods of time, do not need to hang around for others unless they want to... this enables spaces to be free and for others to come and eat. The children mark up whether they have eaten well, OK, or not so much... this enables parents to know how much their children eat, and also staff to know who have eaten and who still needs reminding that the lunch hours is coming to an end soon.
The last child in each department takes a car with them to let the dining hall and kitchen know that no more children will be coming to eat from there.
This also means the food (all made from scratch) does not get wasted... as the food on the buffét table gets topped up after demand... any food not brought out to the dining room can be used sustainably to make bread, soups etc etc.
They have also changed the look of the dining room, from all the tables being the same - traditional preschool tables to being a variety of different tables - different heights and sizes... allowing the children to choose between sitting on the floor on cushions, sitting on child size chars, picnic benches or bar stools. Allowing the children to choose to sit in large groups or with just one other friend, or a couple of friends.
In the dining room there are always three teachers (not the assistants... always the ones with full teacher status) as lunch is seen as a pedagogical part of the day... and phrasing things right is an essential part of the process... to encourage them to be independant, but to always be there to scaffold the process. To encourage the children to test new foods - something new and exciting is put out every day in small amounts... for those children that dare to try it... and once it catches on... like humus did, then they are able to put more out on the buffét table and the new dish in small amounts becomes something else... sometimes olives... always something that can offer the children a culinary adventure... and making sure there are always choices of vegetables and the main dish every day.
To make the preschool inclusive there is no dairy, eggs or nuts in the food so that those with allergies are given the same choices as everyone else.
When seeing the old photograph of the dining hall and the new one it is very easy to see how the new design gives the children a much greater choice - a step away from the one size fits all when the tables and chairs are so uniform.
It also got me thinking about how each table would give the children a new perspective of the room and of the others in the room... depending on whether you were sitting high or low, or in between.
Here you can see several shots of the dining room... as the room was a little wide for my camera to catch it all at once - you can see there are five different forms of seating - and that each tabel is very unique .... the bench/shelf against the wall, under the art, on the top right photo is where the buffét is served, and the children help themselves.
The inspiration for the dining room comes from a hotel in Rejkjavik (Hotel Marina) where they have an eclectic collection of seating and tables with book shelves to divide spaces... of course we just had to go and have lunch there after our visit so that we could soak up the inspiration. You can see below that there is a veriety of heights and sizes and upcycling in much the same manner as the playschool dining room.
It feels appropriate to design the children's dining room based on a space that adults find attractive too - filled with interesting things to look at - and a variety of choices of how to sit - why should we design rooms for children based on the ease of cleaning up after them, or based on a one size fits all?
So does this inspire you to take another look at where and how you eat?
What choices are the children given in your setting?
For more information about the playschool you can check out their website... http://www.adalthing.is/is