Why one should let young children* use breakable teaware.
Note : « young children » can be replaced by « hopelessly clumsy grownup », it works fine too…
I have 4 kids, aged 8/10/21/23. I taught kindergarten and primary school levels for more than 20 years. So, even if I have quit this job, teaching and education are still part of me.
One day, while browsing a Montessori or Steiner-Waldorf education website – I can’t remember which one – I read that children, even young ones, should use real things for daily life, not items especially conceived for their supposed clumsiness. It was my own educational view : give something real to one’s child.
The example given in the post was the water jug. Instead of giving the child water, let him or her pour water from a glass or ceramic water jug, a breakable one. The main criterion for choosing tableware was this one : the water jug had to be a breakable one.
Let’s see the reasons why young children are not given breakable items.
If the water jug breaks, there can be sharp and cutting pieces. It is dangerous for him/her. It is true that if the child picks up the pieces, he/she can cut seriously.
If the water jug breaks, the child can feel guilty for bein « naughty ». It is humiliating and his self-esteem can suffer.
If the water jug breaks, the adult will have to pick up the pieces. It is one more thing to do, and any parent knows that having one child is muuuuuch work, and even more with several children !
Well. These reasons are really understable and legitimate.
But such a way of educating has limits and can even prove counter-productive, i.e. reinforcing a child’s clumsiness and lack of self-confidence.
So, what is one to do if a child breaks a water jug, to keep the same example ?
Don’t scold the child : if he/she didn’t do it on purpose, just ask him/her to fetch the broom, a garbage bag, and, more importantly, to go away from the dangerous area. If he/she did it on purpose (to make you angry, or just to discover what would happen if he/she dropped it), ask the same, and give him/her a task to be done as a compensation, if he is able to understand this concept.
He/she is to pick up the pieces only if he/she is old and skilful enough to do it without hurting himself/herself. The goal is neither to humiliate nor to hurt, but to make clear that actions have consequences, and that one must face and fix one’s mischieves.
Insist on the difference between mischief and clumsiness : the first one is intentional, and the child is well aware that it was forbidden, that it should not have been done. The second one is not intentional, it is an accident. Once the place is clean again, try to have him/her understand why it happened, and what can be done to avoid it.
As for the extra workload, I have no solution… unless you put your children in the freezer. Don’t worry, with a few minutes in the microwave, they will be as new.
How could the use of non breakable materials be counter-productive ?
Well, it is precisely because the child will not discover that many objects break. The first time one of my daughters broke a mug, she froze still, and told me « I didn’t know it could break », with a desperate tone. From this moment on, she knew it, and paid much more attention to things.
Another of my daughters received a cute gaiwan. She was so excited when she opened the package, that she dropped the saucer that broke. Lesson learnt the hard way : she now knows that haste can cause catastrophes.
The injured saucer was fortunately curable. It now shows a beautiful scar. An educational tool.
A child who is surrounded with unbreakable, overly safe, materials, will not learn that, in real life, things are mostly delicate, that they break, tear away, get damaged. He or she will not learn to take care of them. Every child is able to learn, on his or her own rhythm, of course, but he or she is able to learn.
Any child is sensitive to beauté, to rarity, to the precious aspect of things. If he or she is told to be careful, if adults insist on the fragility but at the same time let him or her use the object anyway, he or she will feel important, and will do his or her best to keep it intact. He or she will be more focused : he or she is regarded as a « grownup ».
A plastic tumbler is not to be handled the same way as a fine bone china or a Yi Xing clay teapot – the famous very delicate Chinese teapots.
One can do anything with a plastic tumbler, like a water or a pop battle.
Using a bone china teacup or a Yi Xing teacup demands concentration, care, attention. It is liked being invited to Buckingham Palace for tea, or to the Forbidden City.
In other words, letting children use delicate teaware is teaching them the difference between the ordinary and the special things. And it is still possible to grab the plastic tumblers for a water battle after tea, isn’t it ?
It is introducing them to beauty. It is showing them that luxury is not for wealthy people only. Children are very sensitive to beauty, even though they do not know why. Of course, if all they know is tacky plastic stuff with very bright colors, they will love only tackiness, since they will not know anything else as « beauty ». And they will dream of having solid gold loos…
It is respecting them by asking them to respect people who trust them enough to let them use their treasures : when one lets other people use something, it means trust. And there is no better way for a child to have self-confidence, than showing him or her than one trusts him or her. An ascending spiral is on.
OK. That’s all very well, but how to avoid breaking great-grand-aunt Anastasia’s Lomonosov teaware, or the Meiji era set brought from Japan by Uncle George when he was a military attaché at the British Embassy in Tokyo, or the Yi Xing teapot made by master potter, that cost us one arm and three toes ?
Yi Xing Teapots. (Photo : objetschinois.com)
Lomonosov porcelain teacup, official purveyor of the Russian Imperial family. (Photo : aushop.fr)
Meiji Era teacup, hand painted eggshell bone china… thrifted. (Personal collection).
These items are very valuable and very fragile. They can’t be replaced. It is completely understandable to want to keep them intact !
But, on the other hand, if these objects spend their time in a box or a closet, what is the point of having them ? Better donate them to a museum !
Things are made to be used. I don’t talk about works of art, I talk about useful items. Beautiful, delicate, but functional ones.
Nobody – not even I – says that a toddler must be given a very delicate cup !
However, it is possible, as soon as a child can sit up and stay still for a few minutes, to give him or her a sandstone mug. It is very strong, it survives many shocks, and it is quite cheap.
Little by little, as the child grows, it is possible, for instance for Christmas, for a birthday, or when visiting a potter’s workshop or a creators’ market, to let him or her choose a mug, a bowl. HIS or HER mug. HIS or HER cup. He or she will use it for breakfast, for soup, for snacks, and so on.
It is important to let him or her notice that the item is carefully wrapped to protect it, as it can break : it is fragile.
Objection, Your Honor : I don’t have the money to buy a potter’s mug every single week. What am I to do ?
I don’t have this money either !! I go to thriftstores, garage sales, and so on. Some very pretty bone china or sandstone can be found for a few bucks. My favorite mug comes from a thrift store and cost me 2$ !
My Precious One…
Actually, most of my teaware is thrifted, which makes it less painful when one is broken !
If the object is broken, one can try and fix it. And if, unfortunately, it is not fixable, it is best to wait for another special time to replace it, which will show the child that not everything can be replaced on the spot. And it is the perfect time to insist on the required care for handling these delicate things.
I say it again : the goal is to show a child that actions have consequences, and that there are rules to follow.
As he or she grows, one can let him or her use more and more delicate items. I don’t give precise ages, as each child grows at his or her own pace. The essential rule : trust him or her.
Tip : choose teaware whose size is adapted to the child’s hand size and strength.
A 32 fl.oz/1 l. sandstone teapot ? No. A 6 fl.oz/20 cl china teapot ? Yes. Just use your common sense.
A 5-year-old CAN use a small teapot. Just be careful that the tea is not too hot (green teas are better than black teas for that, since they require not as hot water). With a teatowel withing hand reach to wipe potential spills, the child will see that no catastrophe can happen.
A gawian is a bit complex to use, as one must hold the lid and the bowl at the same time. My Kitty Princess got her first gaiwan when she was 7 and a half. It is a teeny-tiny one (2 fl oz/60 ml), that fits her teeny-tiny hand, that I bought from Yunnan Sourcing for about 10€/10$. Mine, about 3fl oz/100 ml, is still too big for heer. This mini gaiwan – a real one, not a toy – is very simple, plain white bone china, but she is so proud to use it. The first times she used it, she spilled some tea. But does it matter ? I do it too…
On the left, my Princess’ mini-gaiwan, on the right, mine.
And what matters most ? Things, or skills that the child learns ?