Well, I've had another recent brainstorm and am experimenting with my idea in the classroom this week. Before I describe this new activity, I need to give you some background information. As you may or may not know depending on how often you read the blog and how much of it you've read, in my Montessori preschool classroom we do "group snack." Many Montessori classrooms set up "individual snack" so that children may serve themselves and eat at any time they wish to during the Montessori work period. I am seriously considering switching to that at some point, but not this school year. So for now, we are doing "group snack" which is just that: we eat snack at the same time as a group. Some of the advantages to group snack are that we can reinforce grace and courtesy (children are required to say, "Yes, please" or "No, thank you" when asked if they would like snack), the snack helper (the child who brings the snack) gets to have a leadership and serving role when they assist in passing out snack, and eating together promotes a sense of community and allows for a social time for the children. This last advantage can also become a disadvantage, however. What often happens (and has happened in my classroom this year) is that children quickly decide who they want to sit by at snack time and this can result in hurt feelings if someone wants to sit by someone who wants to sit by someone else......... you get the idea. I have tried to address this by directly telling the children that we can't "save spots" and that telling someone "you can't sit here" can make that person's love light go out a little bit, etc. I have also tried to strategically dismiss them from line to choose a "snack spot" so that they don't always become so "cliquey" about where they sit.
This leads me to my new idea. I recently took photos of all the children and made them into "placecards" with their photo and name on the front of the card and a label with just their name on the backside. I have several ideas about how I am planning to use these, but for now we are using them to mark where they sit at snack time. During our second line time, my assistant places the photo cards at the tables. Then when snack time comes around, the children sit where their "placecard" is. The snack helper gets to choose whom they sit with, but otherwise everyone sits where their card is. And most often, they may be sitting with someone they haven't sat by or played with before. So far no one has complained about this. And I really like how it is helping them to meet and talk with more children.
The real "meat" of the new plan, however, are the Table Topic cards. I had the idea of making up little picture cards and calling them "Table Topics". (I think this idea was inspired by a dinner party my husband and I went to last Christmas. The hostess had purchased a set of conversation cards that we used to talk with the people at our table. It actually did help promote more conversation among people who didn't really know each other at the party.)
In our classroom, we will have have a different Table Topic each week. Before I dismiss children to snack, I show them one of the cards and explain to them what the "topic" for the day is. My assistant and I briefly model how we could have a conversation about that topic by asking and answering questions related to the topic. A Table Topic card is placed on each table as a visual reminder of the topic. This week our topic is "Halloween costumes OR dress-up".
The first photo shows the "Table Topic" card one on of the tables this week. You can see the little arms and elbows of the friends who were sitting next to each other, eating their snack and talking about their topic. The second photo shows a close-up of the Table Topic card. As I said before, we will keep the same topic for a week, which should work since they will probably sit next to a different person each time they attend school.
I have planned out and created Word documents with Table Topics through December. For the most part, they reflect seasonal ideas or "favorites" such as favorite pizza, favorite candy, etc. I have made a few of these documents available for you to download. Just click on the title below to download the files.
NOTE: Even if you do individual snack, you could use these topic cards on your snack table to promote conversation. I think this is a great idea to promote language skills among children. AND........it has been really fun already to listen in on the little conversations that have been happening around the snack tables.
FINALLY................If you are a parent of a child in my classroom, be sure to start asking your child who they sat by at snack time and what the "Table Topic" was.