Monday, February 4, 2013

The Breakfast Girl: A Learning Story of Practical Life, Homeschool Style

Since hearing about Learning Stories, I have written many in my head, but only two on paper -- or on screen as the case may be. When I was reflecting on last week's homeschool happenings, another one came to mind, so I thought I would get it down and share it before the moment passed. I hope it inspires you to try Learning Stories as a form of documentation, assessment and planning in your home or school.

The Breakfast Girl

Nina, growing in independence, and shining with pride and joy
I was catching up on a few things when Nina finished her Five Before Breakfast and decided it was time to eat.  So, she asked if she could serve the oatmeal that I had made, which was warming on the stove.  With purpose and independence, she took bowls from the cupboard and silverware from the drawer and, then, began to spoon out a serving of oatmeal for herself.  

Although Nina was hungry, she did not simply sit down to eat what she had served herself after doing so.  Instead, she spooned out a second portion of oatmeal for her baby brother, who was still doing his Five Before Breakfast, and one for her big brother, who was still sleeping.  She also prepared one for me.

At this point, Nina still did not begin to dig into her breakfast.  Rather, she asked if she could go in the fridge, where she found defrosted raspberries in a bag and our big jug of maple syrup.  She, then, spooned some of the raspberries out and put them next to each serving oatmeal.  After this, she found the small silver pitcher that we use for maple syrup in the cupboard and poured some maple syrup from the large jug of it that we keep in the fridge into the small pitcher that we use at the table.

With sides and toppings to the oatmeal all set, I would have thought that Nina would have finally begun to dig into breakfast so that she could satiate her hungry morning belly.

She did not.

Instead, Nina went to another cupboard, got a small, lidded plastic container, spooned some oatmeal which was still leftover in the pan into it it, added some raspberries and syrup and declared, "for Daddy."  (Daddy was already at work.)  She put the container in a bag in the fridge so Daddy could have it the next day. (Later, Nina and her brother added many other things to the bag, but that is  "Part Two" of this Learning Story, which I hope to share another day.)

The oatmeal and raspberries Nina prepared are on the top right, between the salmon can and the mixed vegetable salad.

With everyone else in the family accounted for (and Nina's brothers finally ready to eat alongside her), Nina led a prayer and, happily, dug into the breakfast that she had so independently prepared for everyone -- eating a few bites of raspberries first.

What It Means

Nina, at but five-and-a-half years old, you demonstrate independence, competence, kindness and a sense of service.  As you served breakfast for everyone last week, you also proved to Mommy that, even if we do not always "do Montessori" in ideal ways at home, practical life skills are constantly practiced and mastered.

As you spooned oatmeal and raspberries out onto people's plates, as you poured maple syrup from one container to another, as you placed dishes on the table for the family..., you proved your mastery of so many practical life skills.  You also showed a sense of independence and service.

When you paused to think of Daddy, even though he had already gone to work, you demonstrated the practical kindness that you so often do.  Even though preparing leftovers for Daddy could have waited until after you had eaten breakfast yourself, you decided to get them ready and and in the fridge first.  Nina, you often prioritize other people's needs.  You truly have a compassionate heart.

The fact that you served raspberries alongside the oatmeal and, then, ate the produce first evidences that you understand the importance of including "produce power" in our daily diet and are happy to follow our new practice of eating "raw foods first" in the morning.

Throughout the entire time that you served breakfast, you remembered some of our family rules, guidelines and practices.  You finished your Five Before Breakfast before asking to eat; you asked for permission before going in the fridge; you served a portion of the meal into a container for Daddy to eat later; you shared your time and talent; you led prayers...  The list goes on.  As I reflect upon all that you did on that morning last week, I recognize growth of skills and of character.  You are quite a young lady, Nina!

Opportunities and Possibilities

Nina shows both skill and independence in serving breakfast for herself and her family.  She also demonstrates an enthusiasm for serving Daddy's needs.

To help Nina take the next steps in the practical life skill of preparing and serving meals, we can choose one morning a week that Nina is in charge of planning, making and serving -- from start to finish -- for the family.   We can also have Nina prepare Daddy's lunch bag for him at least one day a week. 

First, we can practice by having Mommy act as a helper to Nina throughout the entire planning, preparing and serving process of a breakfast menu, which does not require use of our stove.  Then, we can encourage Nina to plan, prepare and serve whatever breakfast meal that we worked together to get on the table, entirely on her own as a service to our family.

Likewise, we can ask Nina to get Daddy's lunch bag ready one day a week using leftovers from breakfast and other meals, as well as sides form the cupboards and fridge.

Over time, we can also teach Nina how to use the stove safely so that she can prepare other types of breakfast foods for us.  At this point, she sometimes helps to turn burners on and off, to stir foods in pots and to flip foods on the griddle, but, for safety sake (both her own and her ever-watchful, model-after-siblings, baby brother's), we stress that no child should use the stove without an adult's help.
Nina's Reactions

When I read this story to Nina, she beamed with a big smile and recalled, "That's what I did last week!"  She then ran into the kitchen declaring "I'm getting some oatmeal for Dad," since we happened to have leftover oatmeal today, too.

She is excited to make Daddy's lunches and to learn to make a family breakfast --from start to finish -- all on her own. 

What is a Learning Story?

Learning Stories are a form of assessment, reflection and sharing that I first heard about through a Reggio yahoogroup I belonged to some years ago, which offered a link to this website.  Basically, they consist of narration and photos (or other visual documentation) that tell the story of a child's singular learning experience, followed by a "What It Means" section, an "Opportunities and Possibilities" section and a "Parent's Voice" section.   There is no right or wrong way to write them, but, to be most effective, there are conventions that a man named Tom Drummond conveniently summarized in a PDF entitled Writing Learning Stories.

What learning have you observed recently and how does it inform possible future activities?

Although my interest in Learning Stories was initially inspired by an interest in Reggio practices, I feel that Learning Stories can be an effective tool in Montessori-inspired teaching, too. If you'd like to see other folks' Montessori-inspired ideas and work, click on over to Montessori Monday, where this post is being shared.


M├Ągi said...

Wow! That is beautiful. Go Nina! I love reading about your family and your style of parenting is a model for if I ever have a family.

Martianne said...

And, your comments always make my day, Magi!!

Deb Chitwood said...

I hadn't thought about Learning Stories for awhile. I enjoyed preparing them as part of my school placement for my master's degree. I loved reading about your lovely example, Martianne. I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page:


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