Poetry Teatime: Let the kids host

Poetry Teatime

We are a REALLY busy family. I have 7 kids aged 2-11 and one of them is profoundly disabled requiring at least 8 hours a day hands on care. Since our high needs kiddo was born afternoon teas have been sporadic at best. A couple of months ago, I had a brainwave – let the kids host! My 5, 6, 7, 9 and 11 year olds take it in turns to host each week. Nash, Wordsworth, Shakespeare and Lear have returned like long lost friends and Custard The Dragon has taken his weekly place at our table again. Here is how we do things.

Step 1 – The child will let me know if they want a special theme and if the need anything specific for their afternoon tea on the Thursday before, straight after the last afternoon tea. Any special things they want will be written on the white board or the shopping list if needed or just talked about. Anna, my 6 year old, wanted a daffodil theme last week (it’s spring here in Australia) so was planning to pick daffodils and wanted me to find and print out “Daffodowndilly” by A A Milne as we don’t have a copy. Andrew, my 5 year old, wants a Monster Truck theme and assures me he needs nothing special unless I am willing to get him a real, actual monster truck (I’m not).

Step 2 – The morning of the afternoon tea the hosting child checks if they have everything and recruits any help needed. Anna asked her older sister (Erin, aged 11) to help her bake cupcakes. Andrew will probably ask his older brother to take him to the store across the road.

Step 3 – Any prep is started usually just before or after lunch. On Anna’s day lunch ran late and life happened so she opted to leave the ideas of baking for another day and pick daffodils before going to the store for chocolate biscuits (cookies for the Americans among us) and lemonade. Andrew will probably arrange his monster truck collection as a centerpiece then go across the road with his brother to get some biscuits and a special drink. Sometimes the older children make hot chocolate or cups of herbal tea, but this is the only time soft drink (pop) is allowed in the house so it’s quite a novelty.

Step 4 – At 3 0’clock the rest of us arrive at the table. Some of us may bring a special poem or book we wanted, others will just use the five volumes selected by the host and strewn on the table. After a short grace thanking God for beautiful things and beautiful words we will share our poems, laugh, clean up spills, have meaningful talks, indulge in a few limericks and playground chants and be done. At Anna’s afternoon tea “Daffodowndilly” by A. A. Milne featured alongside “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth and “Nothing Gold can Stay” by Robert Frost. But poems from Lear to Shakespeare to an irreverent collection of playground chants called “Unreal Banana Peel” all had their part. Andrew’s will likely have a few special Ogden Nash (Custard the Dragon is Andrew’s favourite) but everyone will have their piece.

Step 5 – Everyone puts their plates and cups in the dishwasher, the books go back to the poetry shelf or perhaps snuck outside to be perused in the hammock.

Poetry has always been a love of mine but bigger than this we are taking the time to add something special to our week. My kids love hosting. It makes them feel important and special. It fosters independence, planning and organizational skills and boosts their self esteem. There’s something about this that is even bigger than any educational outcome for us though. When my daughter with special needs was a tiny, fragile baby in NICU I could not even dress her, the only thing I could do to mark her as mine was place tiny bows in her hair. During that time I realized something very important. Bows matter. The doctors and nurses could keep her alive, but only I could put bows in her hair and love like a mother. The day to day survival stuff is big, but chocolate biscuits with poetry, daffodils and laughter – that’s more important than most people will ever realize. We love having this particular special “bow” taking pride of place in our week once again. We love having a time scheduled to laugh, love and share our hearts together.


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