This Teacher Feature was meant to be published around the time SEEC closed due to Covid 19 in March of 2020. As the weather gets cooler and many of us are back to teaching in person, it finally feels appropriate to share this lesson.
For this week’s Teacher Feature we will highlight a toddler class. Educators Stephanie Lopez, Abigail Marden, and Julia Smith were exploring different concepts around tea. For this lesson, the class learned about how “tea is a time” when they went to the National Museum of Asian Art’s Freer Gallery to see tea bowls while being introduced to ideas around the Japanese tea ceremony. Below you will find a reflection from toddler educator Julia Smith.
Julia began the morning by inviting her class to join her in a circle where she talked to them about the ideas that they had explored earlier in the week. She reminded the class that “tea is plant” by showing them a mint plant and that “tea is a drink” by encouraging them to pretend that they were drinking tea.
What inspired you to teach this lesson?
This lesson was inspired by our class’s interest in what their teachers like to drink. Many teachers in our center enjoy tea and coffee. Our toddlers often requested to look inside the mugs and to smell our drinks. Additionally, I have a personal love of tea that made me want to teach this lesson. Having recently traveled to Japan, I wanted to learn more about the traditional tea ceremonies.
Julia showed the class a video of a Japanese tea ceremony. She turned the volume off and narrated what was happening in the video. Julia was able to react to the children’s interest and focus the viewing experience to their wonders.
What were your objectives?
I find it easier to teach lessons to this age group when I can break down my ideas about a topic into very simple concepts. I wanted the children to know where tea comes from (“tea is a plant”), how tea is made (“tea is a drink”), and why people drink tea (“tea is a time”). This idea came up when I discovered it was very confusing to learn that the word “tea” refers to several different things including the name of a plant, the name of the drink, and the activity of drinking.
To explore how “tea is a time”, I wanted to talk about how drinking tea is so often a calming experience (at least for me!) This was a great opportunity for my class to work on self regulation techniques. We often try to sprinkle elements of self regulation and mindfulness into our lessons. Even very young children can learn to listen to their bodies and try to take deep breaths.
As the class made matcha, Julia was careful to note that they were not performing a Japanese tea ceremony but rather exploring the tools and making tea together. She showed the class the tea bowl, the whisk or “chasen” and encouraged them to use their senses to explore the green, fragrant, matcha.
Describe the experience of making the tea in the classroom.
Before teaching this lesson, I carefully considered a couple of things. I wanted to introduce the children to a way of making tea that is not as common in our culture (although matcha is becoming increasingly popular!) I wanted to be careful to emphasize that this was not a tea ceremony because a tea ceremony can only be performed by someone extensively trained with a large amount of cultural knowledge. Instead of going into extensive details about what makes the tea ceremony unique, I decided that it was more important for the toddlers to be given time to observe and to be exposed to the idea that there are many ways to make tea. I tried to use the language of “same and different” to connect something potentially unfamiliar (making tea with a power and a bamboo whisk) to something more familiar (we made tea with tea bags the day before). I would say something like: “This way of making tea is the same – it makes a warm tasty drink. This way of making tea is different – it uses different tools.”
When the class arrived at the gallery, Julia encouraged the children to look carefully at the tea bowls and held up a toy teacup that the children had been playing with in the classroom to help the children make connections.
What were the children’s reactions to seeing the tea bowls? Did they make any connections?
We situated ourselves in the gallery so that the tea bowls were the main objects the children could see. They pointed them out when I asked if they could find the tea bowls. I then held up a play tea cup the children had been using in their play all week. This helped them create connections between the tea bowls on display and the knowledge they already had constructed through their play in our classroom. After I made that comparison, I handed the toy cups out to the children. They pretended to drink out of their plastic cups while looking at the tea bowls. Their pretend play allowed them to make further connections about the various types of tea.
Unfortunately, the bowls on display were up a bit high for them to see well when we were sitting on the ground. Although the viewing angle wasn’t as good, with this age group, it is much better to have them seated on the ground for the museum circle. It keeps them grounded in that location and allows them to engage in museum appropriate play. If they were standing, they are likely to be immediately distracted and want to explore everything they see in the entire space.
To allow the children some time to explore on their own, Julia, Stephanie, and Abby gave each child their own teacup to hold. The children immediately began pretending to drink from their cups and started knocking their cups together and saying, “cheers”.
How did you encourage your class to explore their own ideas while in the gallery? Why is this important for toddler learning?
I am so glad that we brought the toy cups into the gallery. Having objects or something for the children to hold in the galleries is a really great way to keep their interest. It also lets them begin to play in the museum space. Children this age need to act something out or interact with it physically in order to build understanding. I should note that when you allow children to play, they sometimes will partake in activities that need redirection. In this instance, my class started banging their cups on the ground in a quiet and echo-y gallery so we encouraged them to instead take pretend slurps and saying cheers
Julia reminded her class that “tea is a time” and explained that sometimes people drink tea to socialize or to find a sense of calm deep inside of themselves. To further explain this sense of calm, she read “Charlotte and the Quiet Place” by Deborah Sosin.
How did you explain the topic “tea is a time” to your toddlers?
In doing my research for this lesson, I learned how very often “tea times” around the world are used as a break from work and a chance to socialize. There is the classic British tea time but also many, many, other cultural traditions around tea as a time to relax. Japanese tea ceremonies focus on using the process of preparing tea as a time of calm and meditation. With children this age, recognizing and dealing with big feelings is a huge part of their social emotional development. Finding ways to help toddlers recognize when they are overwhelmed and giving them strategies (even as simple as teaching them how to take big breaths) are really valuable.
I love the book Charlotte and the Quiet Place by Deborah Sosin (Author) and Sara Woolley (Illustrator) because it is very simple, a young girl is overwhelmed by a noisy world. She finds a quiet place in that park and realizes taking deep breaths helps her feel better. It helps introduce children to the idea of being overwhelmed (e.g. things are too loud) and that there are ways to not feel that way. Talking about tea time as a calming time was both authentic to the many cultures that consume tea and also a great opportunity to help talk to children about their big feelings.
Before leaving, children took some deep breaths while holding their teacups so they could find their own quiet place. Then they were lifted up so they could better see the tea bowls.
What recommendations do you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?
If you are going to teach about other cultures it helps to ground it in something the children are genuinely interested in. I tried to avoid taking a tourist approach to Japanese culture by always connecting the knowledge to the children’s lives and grounding the lessons in their demonstrated interest in tea.
I had trouble finding books about tea that were age appropriate and connected well to my lesson so I wrote my own! It’s always an option to make the resource you are looking for. When visiting museums that are not typically geared toward children, it helps to visit the space first to see the layout of the gallery. In this instance, I was able to determine where I would want the children to sit so that they could freely explore with their toy tea cups.