Sunday, February 25, 2007

Plastic Elimination Campaign: Kid's Dishes

From Stephannie:

I'm fascinated by the idea that with fewer and nicer toys the kids will respect and treat them properly...and I'm wondering if that applies to dishes and tableware, as well. I liked your use of "Sunday Silver" and was wondering about your thoughts on this subject. I've seen families who use enamelware (which doesn't break, but chips and rusts), melamine (aka, plastic), fiestaware (sturdy but still breakable), and mismatched corelle (very breakable, but cheap to replace at garage sales and thrift stores). Others, like us, have plastic kid-sized stuff for the kids. I don't mind the colorful plates and bowls so much (they match our colorful fiesta dishes) but am ready to toss the plastic spoons, forks, and awful collection of sippy cups that I currently regard as a necessary evil.
Thank you,

I respond:
Hi Stephannie! Sorry it took me so long to respond! I favor using a combination of enamelware, which (as you said) chips and rusts, but which has recently become more and more available inexpensively, and breakable dishes for kids.

Using breakable dishes is the Montessori approach, which reasons: children need to know that some things break. Letting them use breakable dishes quickly teaches them this, and they learn to handle china carefully. I have found that the Montessori approach has worked with *most* of my kids. (I'll explain the asteriks in a moment.) The key is having a supply of small breakable dishes and being willing to spend some time monitoring the child who is using the dishes. I collect mismatched china, and I've frequently found stacks of saucers and dessert plates at flea markets for about 25 cents a plate. I pick ones that match our existing china (usually plain white) and try to practice detachment towards their continued existence. You can see the stack of red and white restaurantware above that has survived the last three children. What I used to do was use these dishes for the current baby or toddler when setting the table and model holding and setting down the plate carefully. Inevitably, the baby would drop one, and I would react with consternation (not anger, just polite sadness). "Oh no! The plate broke. See what happened?" Then I would carefully sweep up the pieces and throw them away, shaking my head sadly. "You have to handle dishes carefully or they break."

For my first four babies, this worked like a charm. They would watch in wide-eyed dismay as I threw out the dish and from then on, they would move their plates carefully (it was really something to watch a nine-month-old child set a plate down carefully). Then God, in His wisdom, bestowed on me two strong-willed children who found that destruction was interesting and awe-inspiring. After sweeping up the fourth or fifth plate that Joan had hurled to the floor, my husband said wearily, "Look, I know you're trying to do this Montessori thingy, but could you please not do it at the supper table?"

So for Christmas this year, Joan received her very own enamelware set from my favorite toy catalog Nova Natural. I love this set, which consists of the green-and-beige cup, bowl, and plate, trimmed in dark blue, made in Poland :) ( I'm married to a man who's half Polish). (note: I see they're out of the green set (temporarily?), but check out this one.) I've noticed the enamel on the green set is particularly durable, and despite Joan's daily dashing them to the ground, they're barely dented. We had gotten our previous baby another one of Nova Natural's set three years ago (white with blue dots) which is a bit chipped but still in circulation.

An alternative to enamelware are sterling silver or stainless steel baby cups, which I happily receive as baptismal gifts or pick up at flea markets (you can see one above). For older kids, you can sometimes find those neat stainless steel tumblers in various colors, if you like that look.

As for sippy cups -- I'll leave that to another post.


Stephanie in Germany said...

Thank Heavens! I finally figured out how to register to be able to comment.

We have the same white dishes with blue polka dots for our girls. Outside in the sandbox we have plastic pots, dishes, shovels, animals(Schleich)... What do you use for outside play?
Or am I jumping the gun here?

stephanie said...

Thank you for this post (and I look forward to a "sippy cup" post, when you have time in the future). I like the painted cubby the dishes are stored/displayed in and assume it is low enough for the little kids to get their own dishes and put them away.

regina doman said...

Hi Stephannie! Yes, the cupboard is a low one the kids can access.

For outside play - I admit, I don't use plastic, I use our old metal kitchen things. :) But as you can see, I can be a Nazi about these things. :) After all, I still have to pick up outside toys too.

But I'll post about outside toys in another post.

BTW if any other readers want to share their options for eliminating plastic, or at least ugliness, please feel free to share!

LeeAnn said...

While I don't know a lot about Montessori, one tip I've taken home is letting kids pour their own drinks. I sometimes set out creamers with milk in them on the breakfast table next to their cereal bowls so the kids can pour their own milk (both for drinking and the cereal) and it eliminates the "I called you down for breakfast twenty minutes ago and now your cereal is soggy--sorry, just eat it!" rant. I have one nice creamer (a Queen's Ware blue and white floral piece) and others from the thrift store. So far, they haven't dropped them and none are broken. But I do agree it's better to cultivate that attitude of "detachment toward their continued existence." It's just pottery after all, no matter how pretty.

When I read the bit about letting the baby use a china dish and observing its breakage, I thought...hmm, she must have wood floors. In my house, this would just mean really dirty carpet. (We do have a tiny breakfast area, but I rarely feed the baby there since its in the walkway of access to the backyard and the garage. So normally, if we are all eating together, it's in the carpeted dining room. Which actually is the living room, but our dining table is too big (8 or 9 feet long?) for the dining room, so we switched them. We never use the gas fireplace anyway and the old 1980s brass-and-glass chandelier is hitched up close to the ceiling with a "decorative" zip tie.

As we hit the local sporting goods store today for swim goggles and shoe laces, we took a look at the enameled camping dishes. Did you know they make blue speckle enameled tin espresso cups? Just right for a little baby cup and only $1.49, but I got ours for .50 cents since it came pre-chipped for our convenience. :)

regina doman said...

Thanks Stephannie and Stephannie in Germany!

LeeAnn - I just saw those tiny expresso cups -- they are ADORABLE. My friend Anna Hatke brought a set back from Italy and I was slavering over them. Do you know where to get them this side of the pond?

And, you are right, we do have wood floors!

LeeAnn said...

Well, the ones we have are the "camping quality" espresso cups, because you know, here in the Northwest we can't live without our Starbucks. Or apparently go camping without toting ten pounds of coffee-making gear (including a frother for the proper amount of foam). The ones I bought were the speckled blue graniteware variety. An identical cup in green is here:

But I think what you are referring to are Italian style espresso cups in enamel, presumably more decorative than plain graniteware. There's a Venetian imports shop in Snohomish (an antiques/touristy town nearby) maybe I'll check with them to see if they carry such things.

Here are some blue ones like I have from eBay:


regina doman said...

Thanks for the links LeeAnn!