The Tea Tree Restaurant was a pop-up experience like no other! Although the establishment has closed its doors and served its last customers, it was the culmination of a year of discovery, exploration, and, well, food that will be long cherished by its proprietors and customers.
Our Tea Tree students’ love of food and cooking manifested itself early in the year. Questions like “What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream? Do you want some cake and coffee?” soon progressed to cooking and serving pretend food to teachers, staff, and any (and all!) classroom visitors, using the natural materials in our outdoor kitchen and in the dramatic play area. We continued to build on their interest in food as a way to build relationships, connections, and community.
The first step was to transform pretend into real, and the students voted to start with waffles! We drew a map of the preschool and calculated that we would need 12 waffles to share with everyone (2 for each preschool class). However, as we started making the waffles, we realized there was only enough batter for 10. What should we do? The students ultimately decided to make sure all the other preschool classes got waffles, and they would go without. The teachers were so touched by their selflessness and growth as compassionate individuals and good community citizens.
This experience ignited in the children a desire to open a restaurant. We made a list of things we wanted to learn about restaurants, and posed these questions to several experts. When the students felt they had enough knowledge, we started planning for our grand opening.
They worked collaboratively, voting on everything from restaurant name (Airplane Restaurant narrowly lost to Tea Tree Restaurant); the roles and uniforms needed; and whom to invite.
Although not every decision was unanimous, the children listened to one another and were flexible about their ideas, learning how to compromise and respect each other’s opinions while going along with the group’s plan. It was an authentic lesson in democracy.
After the invitations were sent, everyone donned their hats, aprons, and bowties, flipped over their OPEN sign and waited for customers. Tons of people came, from staff to parents, and our students were warm and gracious hosts, greeting guests at the door, taking orders, and preparing and serving the food.
We loved seeing our students expand their horizons over the course of the project. From the very beginning, they talked about how important it would be to invite mommies, daddies, brothers, and sisters, our Ayis, grandparents and aunts. Then, having shared waffles with other classes, they wanted to expand their circle: other teachers and children, and the people who help make our school run smoothly, like our facilities staff. So they invited this bigger community to dine at the Tea Tree Restaurant.
We were amazed by how much the students thought about others: from planning a menu of their families’ favorite foods to making sure there were high chairs for their little brothers and sisters. We heard from parents that at home, children were more aware of how things work, and more understanding of the world they around them.
Their reasons for opening a restaurant varied (“When we make food they will be happy to see us making food”; “Because I love them (Mommy and Daddy) so much”), but regardless of why, this project helped our students feel empowered as creative and compassionate members of their community.