I had the privilege of studying at Cambridge for a summer while I was a college student. Not once, but twice a day, they served us tea. With cookies. It was a ritual I never missed; I needed the pick-me-up and loved the cookies. (Amazing how little I chose to sleep before I had children! What was I thinking?) Drinking tea has been a habit for me ever since those days, and making a ritual of it for the children happened many years ago. Children love snack-time almost more than anything, and they love rituals. It just works.
We do very little “by the clock” here – the children basically go to bed when they are tired, and wake up in the morning when they are done sleeping. As I plan our school days, I intentionally include routines (first this, then that, and so on) but very little is done at any particular time. Except for tea. I’ve learned from experience that if my children are going to eat a healthy supper, then their afternoon snack needs to be scheduled for earlier in the afternoon, rather than later. We aim for 2:00, so that by 6:00ish they are ready to eat once again.
The children steep their choice of herbal (or green) tea in hot water, then drink it warm or ice it. (In the summer we often substitute iced sun-tea, without sugar.) Younger children are sometimes given a 3-minute hour-glass to watch while the tea steeps; the older kids learn to brew to the strength they like. We grow mint, chamomile, and lemon balm to dry and put in tea-bags, also. (We get these from Mountain Rose Herbs, click on their image to check them out!)
I know that some families use “tea time” to teach table setting, table manners, and etiquette to their children. Some families have tea just occasionally, or for special celebrations like holidays or feast days. We make a daily habit of it. If you think your children “just don’t like tea” then consider offering a variety of different herbal types, with a little bit of sugar, honey, or other sweetener, or a black tea with milk and sugar for the older kids. “Neat” cups, pitchers, and scoops are key here. Try weakly-brewed teas; they aren’t as bitter as strongly-brewed ones. Honestly, I think teas are very healthy for children, and a great alternative to pop, juice, or Kool-aid.
It can be very pleasant to have tea in a room that is very tidy, at a table that is completely clean and nicely set, with classical music playing softly in the background. Even if the rest of the house is a mess, at least the children get to experience a taste of “loveliness” and the joy that comes with a bit of orderliness. It is also fun to invite friends over at this time to join us, or to review our memory work together, memorize a poem, or just sit and talk together about our day.
Because all of the children sit down for tea at the same time, I also can provide some sort of group lesson, as listed on this PDF of our daily schedule here. I aim to do this 4 days a week, although if necessary I admit it’s the first thing to scratch off my schedule when I’m falling behind. When the table is cleared, we do a science experiment perhaps, or a nature drawing, or whatever else is on my schedule.
I have, in the past, considered “not getting tea-time” as a consequence for misbehavior. I quickly changed my mind about that. Life is full of unpleasant business and rushing around. The real point of “tea” is to sit for just a bit, to pause our day, and enjoy being together and being loved unconditionally. In fact, if a child needs to be talked to about a misbehavior, then just after tea-time is when they seem to be in the happiest and most receptive mood for correction.
I want the children to learn that no matter how rushed and chaotic life gets, it is still possible to set aside just a few minutes to rest or pray or be with the ones you love.