Sometimes I get an idea for a topic for this newsletter from something I see or hear during my week of teaching, but this time I found a theme emerging in a chorus of stories. A theme around bananas.
That might sound kind of funny to someone who hasn’t taken a RIE class yet, so let me explain…RIE classes are a time of play and exploration for children. The environment is set up to be a ‘yes’ space where children freely explore equipment and toys and space (well, to a point…RIE in the Wild’s biggest drawback is the lack of physical boundaries to contain children!). The only ‘rules’ are around keeping everyone safe. But once all of the children have been in class for a while and as long as everyone can sit, I begin offering a simple snack of banana and water. And it’s always banana and water…the idea being that snack time is a time of limits and boundaries…hands must be washed and bibs must be worn; children must stay seated and glassware must stay at the table. Because there are so many rules, I want it to be children’s free choice to come to snack. I don’t want to coerce them by offering tempting snacks, so…bananas are de rigueur.
And because of this, bananas can become synonymous with class and, well, with me! Here are my fruity highlights from this week.
🍌 I visited a child’s home this week for the first time…and it was also the first time I was seeing her since well before my extended time away this Fall. I brought one of the beloved kitties to smooth things over. That was fine, but after she processed the fact that I was in her house, she cuddled for a moment with the kitty before asking for…you guessed it, banana! So, we had a little impromptu snack in her living room!
🍌 In one class, I had literal acrobats set up to practice about 20 feet away from where I was serving snack (that’s a new one for RIE in the Wild). I was a little concerned that snack would be abandoned, but nope. Bananas vs Acrobats. Bananas win.
🍌 Everything was flowing, as class does, in my first meeting with a group since I’d been away…children playing, parents chatting, when suddenly one of the children looked at me with a gasp. “Banana!” she signed and said, with urgency in her voice and in her eyes. It was clear that she had completely forgotten that snack was part of the experience and only just remembered. I was delighted to be able to say, “yes, let’s do that now.”
🍌 In that same class, a child who had eschewed snack for the entire time we’d been meeting previously came close, watched…and then let his mother wash his hands with a washcloth he chose. And…he had a few pieces of banana! (I was SO close to bringing another type of snack for him since he seemed so opposed to banana…a lesson to me to, as Magda said…wait…and then wait a little more…)
🍌 In another class a ‘regular’ wasn’t in class, but one child set up a stool and asked for an additional washcloth, which she left folded on the table in front of the stool…for her absent friend.
🍌 In my class just today, I planned to offer snack, but the babies…well, they’re toddlers now as they are well-established walkers…were too busy snacking on things their parents had brought from home. They made their own ‘snacktime’, collaboratively sharing a briny concoction of anchovies, sardines, capers and Green Goddess seasoning (they LOVED it), some sweet potato teething biscuits, and some grapes (and yes!) banana. I couldn’t bring myself to break it up for formal snack time because both children and parents were so delighted. The Moms commented how they felt less anxiety about mess when the children ate together (and outside), where they would be more laser-focused on mess when it was just one child. They also loved that the children’s appetites seemed to inspire each other’s. And I loved watching how the children noticed each other and negotiated over who’s hand went into the container next. There was just so much community in the exchange.
🍌 When told he was coming to RIE class and to see Melani, a child said “Meh Na Nee…Nana!” And this child does NOT eat bananas at home. Ever. But in class, he demands snack almost from the moment of arrival and helps consume copious amounts.
Yes, for so many children RIE is synonymous with bananas and I am synonymous with RIE class and therefore…bananas. It’s sweet (literally and figuratively), but it’s also deep. Serving snack to children serves to deepen my relationships with them. Providing care fosters attachment and what’s more caring than offering nurturing food? The individualized attention, along with the opportunities for agency, mastery, and real choices helps to make the snack a bonding experience. It’s how I get to know them, and how they get to know me. It’s how we connect.
It’s how I came to be connected to one sweet child…someone I knew from the age of 9 to 22 months, and who always stayed close to his Mom in class, but who raced to the snack table each class. Someone who eagerly helped me set up the snack materials and who participated fully, teasing me about the boundaries about staying seated, and someone who’s eyes lit up when I thanked him in the language he spoke at home. We were very sweetly and securely attached…until covid hit. And then I didn’t see him for over two years until he came to class this week, visiting his baby sister’s class. Interestingly, he arrived during snack. And, like every child I’ve ever known who’s moved on to another classroom or who’s been away for a while, he hung back, just peeking at me from around his mother and asking questions. But gradually, gradually he began to come out and come closer, and then, when asked if he remembered me, he said the line that gutted me: “I loved you so much, I had to forget you.”
Yes, even babies and toddlers know how, instinctively, to guard their hearts against loss. But it’s a rare 4.5-year-old who can put it into words. (And it is my fortune to know that rare child who can not only make such a astute statement, but open his heart right back up again!)
For all those children and families who I no longer see in classes on a regular basis, my heart hasn’t forgotten you!
With care and respect,
Oh, and I also must let you know about a very worthy fundraiser for Ukraine. I’ve been following the war news and my heart is breaking for the families and the children who are suffering…and one of my families is doing something about it. The event is tomorrow, November 5, in Venice, and the goal is to raise funds for laptops for Ukrainian refugee children in Uzhgorod, so they can learn remotely while they are exiled from their homes. If you can’t make it, you can also donate online. For details, click here.