The Educational Value of Broken Dishes

The Educational Value of Broken Dishes

by Olynda Smith, AMS Certified Montessori Teacher and Simplicity Parenting Family Life Coach

Did you know that switching to things made of safe, environmentally friendly materials is not only better for your child’s health, it is in many cases actually better for your child’s learning? One area of the home where this is especially relevant is the kitchen. Yes, the kitchen!

Most families of children under six feel that it is their duty to supply their children with non-breakable cups, plates and cutlery. These are often made of plastic. That’s understandable, because broken glass can be dangerous and it can be a headache to clean up. But you may not know that when children use these plastic items, they are missing out on valuable learning and developmental experiences.   


Do not put your mouth on that!

One thing to consider as you entertain the possibility of moving away from plastic in the kitchen is that eating and drinking from plastic objects has significant health risks. Aside from the negative environmental impact, there are also clear negative impacts to our children’s health when they eat and drink from plastic objects. Heating food and beverages in plastic is especially harmful. Even plastics without BPAs can cause harm. When we think about the hormone disruption and other long lasting health consequences of putting our mouths on plastic ,a broken glass here or there seems like a much lower risk.


Breakability is valuable

In Montessori classrooms worldwide, young children use breakable items for drinking and eating everyday. Glass and ceramics are being handled by toddlers and preschoolers with great success and joy. Yes, things do break from time to time. But what children gain is an amazing amount of concentration and coordination - two major areas of development in early childhood. 

When a child drops an unbreakable item, they have no feedback loop that tells them that they need to be careful. So, they do not develop the ability to be careful. When children drop something and it breaks, they are naturally much more careful with their movements from that day forward. Children often understand that if they are not careful, they will not have that breakable item anymore - because it will break.  For other children, the motivation is avoiding the clean up that will have to happen if something is broken. Adults don’t need to say “be careful” as often or at all, because the child understands the urgency to treat these items with care. 

Child drinking from a glass cup

Tips for using breakable dishware at home

    • Learning tools: Think of all these breakable kitchen items as learning tools. It is likely some of them will break. That is part of their purpose. So make sure that the child-sized bowls, glasses and plates you have available for your child are ones that you will not miss if they break. If you don’t have these on hand, you can often find them second hand. Half-pint canning jars make great glasses and then can be repurposed later. If you can not find them second hand, Montessori Outlet is a wonderful resource for child-sized dishware. 

    • Accessibility: Ideally your child can access everything they need in the kitchen. Pick a low shelf, cabinet or drawer and arrange plates, bowls, cutlery and glasses in a clear simple way. Put your child in charge of retrieving these items as they are needed.

    • Clean up routine: The moment something inevitably breaks, a beautiful learning opportunity opens. Ideally our children learn two things during clean up: that mistakes are part of learning and that we clean up our messes. If we can treat a broken glass like it is truly no big deal, and avoid placing blame or shame on our children, we are modeling a growth mindset. When we ask them to participate in cleaning up in a safe and age-appropriate way we are teaching them to take responsibility for any messes made. Children who are given the tools and support to clean up their messes usually feel better about themselves and the mistakes they make on their learning journey. 

    • When to start: I have seen children as young as 18 months old successfully work with glass and ceramic items! If your child seems like they need a little more time, you can always create their accessible kitchen shelf with metal or silicone items at first. Certainly by 30 months, most children will be able to begin working with breakable items and participate in cleaning up messes and spills when they happen.



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