This column has been corrected to reflect the fact that family lunch is still part of the curriculum at the Weekday School.
At the Weekday School at Riverside Church, there is a central piece of curriculum that taught preschool children self-control, empathy, and social skills, as well as basic math. That curriculum is called “lunch.”
In each Weekday School classroom every day, 3- and 4-year-olds are responsible for serving themselves out of common bowls, family style. Each day one child is given the job of setting the table, which requires counting the number of children in the room and setting out, in a pattern, the proper numbers of forks, spoons, and napkins.
The children pour milk and juice out of pitchers, decide how much food they wanted, serve themselves, and pass food to others. They learn to judge portion size, and not to waste. In at least one class when my children attended, a worm compost bin continued the lesson, as children observed how food scraps supported other living communities.
Lunch at the Weekday School is a beautiful showcase for what Paul Tough, author of the new book "How Children Succeed," calls “non-cognitive skills.” I was reminded of this when Tough presented his ideas to a roomful of parents and educators at last week's event sponsored by GothamSchools.