Montessori, and many others tell us to make each meal special, to communicate care by setting a beautiful table even if the meal is merely a snack for a small child. To me this means, firstly, flowers. I've long imagined that the greatest thing about being rich would be being able to have flowers inside all year long. But I'm coming around on this point. There is a time for every beauty. Flowers grow in long days, not short ones. The most cheering thing on a winter table is a candle. By dinnertime, it is yet infallibly dark already. Gibbie likes to talk about the "dark, dark world out there." What we need is a bit more light.
Ideas for winter cheer at our kitchen table:
-anything colored tissue paper taped to the windows; cut stars, snowflakes, squares, etc.
-a candle. We have a favorite candle holder (wedding gift, from 10,000 villages; thanks, dear friends!). I buy candles at the coop (yes, expensive), or the thrift store (cheap!), or make our own (the last time we did that was years ago! man, it's a great winter activity!), or scrounge them from my Dad's basement (we call it the "great source and final resting place of all things", though my brother and sisterinlaw are working hard to change that!). We light a candle at every meal. Blowing it out signals the end of the meal. It's a great way for Gibbie to understand that Mama and Papa are still busy when we're catching up after work at the end of the day.
-a nice tablecloth. Hem any piece of cloth, or buy on the cheap at a thrift store. Ours need to be changed frequently! I don't worry about stains, as we have lots. Some I shake out or flip over before changing.
-cloth napkins This is an easy way to dignify and green a meal. My mom always kept a basket near the table, and we just threw them in the wash. Even using them every meal makes an insignificant dent in the laundry load of a family. No sense in buying these new, as they are the easiest thing to sew. Old clothes, like button-down shirts, actually work much better for napkins than new fabric, as absorbency and softness are key. Easy to find in thrift stores. A family can almost stop buying paper products.
-real silver I've found that real and quite beautiful silver is shockingly cheap in thrift stores. I think no one wants to deal with polishing it. (Hint: preschoolers love to polish!) I'm having a love affair with a particular teapot I found for maybe three dollars.
-books at dinner? Sure! I do try not to keep my nose in a book at the table, but we have a special book by the table and Gibbie always looks forward to reading from it. This is covered beautifully in Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt. I adored this book, though I must mention that the edition I read was from the 1970's, so I can't vouch for the newer one I linked to.
-kids help set the table At 3, I hope Gibbie is soon doing this on his own. For now, I keep the children's things in a drawer they can reach. I ask him to do a specific tasks ("please put a plate on the table", not "set the table") one at a time and do it with him if he's not enthusiastic about my request. Doing it with him has been a great thing. It doesn't make it a negative or adversarial thing at all, and has been a wonderfully effective tactic for growing willingness to help. In the summer, he loves arranging the flowers he picked in a jar.