I work in a private, Reggio-inspired school in Seattle, WA, where I teach in the three-year-old classroom. Many of my stories are inspired by, or based on, my experiences there.
The other day in our classroom, we were all sitting down and eating lunch when one girl, determined to open her own container of apples, pulled on the lid so hard that it opened and apples, container and all flew everywhere. She immediately started crying and yelling, “My apples! I lost my apples!”
We comforted her, acknowledging how frustrating it is when food falls on the ground, and reminded her that she has a lot of other food she can eat. One boy suggested that we get her more apples from the kitchen, and I told him that even though it is nice to get more apples when you drop yours, we can’t get her apples from the kitchen right now, because it is the school’s food that we save for snacks.
The boy looked at me, and replied, “Well sometimes when I throw my apples on the floor my mom gets me more apples.”
I said, “That’s so nice that when you accidentally drop your apples your mom is able to get you more, I am sorry that we can’t do that.”
The boy replied, “I don’t drop them, I throw them. And they just get me more because there are always more apples.”
“You throw them on the floor on purpose?”
“Yeah, I just throw them on the floor.”
“Why do you throw them on the floor?”
“Just sometimes I do because I know they will get me more.”
“Well, that’s lucky that you always get to have more, but sometimes there aren’t more apples, some people don’t have so many apples that they can always have more.”
“Well, there’s just always more.”
I thought about this for a moment. “You are so lucky that you have so many apples and you can always get more when you choose to throw them on the floor, but many people don’t have very many apples, and there aren’t always more that they can have,”
This boy’s parents had, unknowingly, taught him that food is unlimited, and no matter how wasteful he is, he will always be able to have more of it. Of course, kids don’t think of it in those exact terms, but he clearly believed that, no matter what, there would always be more apples. Not only did he state this in terms of what happens in his life, but he talked about it in a way that assumed that, well, of course everyone gets to have more apples, even if they continually throw them on the floor.
This is a huge life lesson to have accidentally conveyed to your child. Many of us believe that children do not pick up on subtleties, that if we talk about them in front of them they don’t understand, and that giving them more apples, or giving in when they constantly scream over our conversations, does not affect them in a big way. But they are picking up on these things. And seemingly little things, like always getting more apples, are teaching them something greater, such as food is unlimited and therefore it is ok to be wasteful.
Our actions, even the smallest ones, do affect them. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t give your kids more food if they accidentally drop it on the floor, I am saying that we unknowingly teach our children large life lessons. My job is to make it less unknowing, and more deliberate, and to advise parents on how to do the same.