I shared this photo on Instagram this week. It shows the three children playing with a new table. Inside are two removable trays and the table then has a top to make it a place to eat or draw. I filled the trays with little construction vehicles and oats and immediately all three sat round the table and brummed the vehicles through. Jude enjoyed feeling the oats fall through his fingers and watching what happened when he sprinkled them onto the grass. As I sat and watched them I suddenly thought at how privileged we are to be able to purely play with food. There are children all over the world, many in our own countries, even in our own villages and towns, that do not have enough food to eat let alone use as a sensory experience.
I thought of all the times I have given our children food to play with. Coloured spaghetti, dry rice, lentils to shake in bottles and all those Pinterest posts that have playing with foodstuff as its theme. There is a level of privilege that I wasn’t comfortable with. My children don’t need to have those experiences with food that they couldn’t get from using natural, non foodstuff, materials. Sand, mud, pebbles are all able to achieve similar sensory experiences without the wastage that food can produce.
The children played with the oats and they enjoyed it. It was then moved into the mud kitchen where they made ‘muddy flapjack’ and had a different sensory experience with the now wet and muddy oats.
When they’d came to a natural end they helped tidy away the oats, using their dustpan and brush set. I didn’t discuss my thoughts with them as I didn’t want them feeling bad. They’d enjoyed themselves and now wasn’t the right time.
I had had a couple of comments about my thoughts and one from the wonderful @montessorifamilyuk (check out her Facebook page here) suggested that every time we used food as play we could donate some food to a food bank or similar. I liked this idea mainly because it was a good starting point for opening up the conversation with the children. I know some would argue that they are only 5 and 3, but I feel they should have some awareness of their privilege. That there are so many so less fortunate than our family and that we can do things that might help. Donating would be a good start.
So I aim to no longer use food purely as a means for sensory exploration or play. That anytime food is used, the intended purpose is to eat it. Food can be throughly explored in the process of preparing a meal or baking or whilst eating it. Any other time a natural non foodstuff will be used. I hope this helps our family to focus on what we have and show awareness to our privilege.