Thursday, April 10, 2014

Teaching Children Table Manners ~ The Art, Science and Tools

On children learning table manners ~"Every human being without exception must pass through this rite of passage, being forbidden the motherly breast or the bottle and taught to eat solid food. The child must learn for most of its mealtimes to give up sucking, the skill with which it was born.  The area inside the cheeks of small children is well provided with taste buds, which adults' cheeks are not; babies taste not only with their tongues but with their cheeks. This is thought to be why they like packing their mouths with food. They must be made to take less at a time." Margaret Visser, The Rituals of Dinner
Art and Ingenuity
Teaching children etiquette is an art, but it is also a science. Ingenuity and creativity are needed to get children to learn table manners. Repetition of what they have been taught is also needed. Take for example these patented items below. They are for teaching children how to eat properly and were designed to instill good table manners. The patents exhibit the 19th and early 20th century historical standpoints of attempting to not only design, but to teach. And all of the rules being taught, still matter today.

These 2 forks above, one hand-crafted in the late 1800s and the other patented in July of 1900, were specifically designed to teach a child how to eat properly. You may be thinking, "Those are simply 'youth-sized' forks." And they are youth sized forks, but looking on the back sides of them, they reveal another story...

I have lightened the photo up a bit, so that you can see fork one reads, "For the Left Hand". The lower fork has a "finger guide" for a child to place his or her finger into, though the artist at the time, drew the illustration with the wrong hand using the fork.  At the time, artists for this type of work were not well paid and were generally from a lower social strata. It is quite possible that the artist drawing this particular graphic did not know how to use a fork properly.  Regardless, the advertisement went into Munsey's Magazine, etiquette flaw and all.

A "child training fork" properly used in the left hand.

Above ~ Eliza is showing the correct hands for using the knife and fork, while still practicing her technique. An interesting tidbit on etiquette and children: Sixteenth-century rules of etiquette were that children leave the table before the end of dinner, take their place settings with them, and take the chairs with them as well.   

The 1932 patented plate, shown below, was designed with a variety of children depicted and added to the plate, after it was made. All have large indentations that are marked as to where a child's fork and spoon would go. The patent itself is more than just vague on what the indentations on either side are for, as I am certain that many inventors and designers did not want to give others any new ideas.

This patent's description for a metal attachment to plates, from 1900, is much more clear on how it is to help children learn to eat with utensils: "In using the device the plate is filled with edibles -- say soup, for instance. The child naturally attempts to fill its spoon by pulling the spoon through the dish and ordinarily will drag the spoon and its contents over the rim of the plate; but in the present instance the spoon will be arrested by the abutment 'e' and then the child will have to lift the spoon clear of the attachment, and thus will be prevented from wasting its food and caused to lift the spoon properly.
It will be seen from the foregoing that the objects of the attachment are to enable a child to feed itself without causing the spoon or other article to slip from the plate, owing to its awkwardness and handling the same, and to avoid the soiling of the table-cloth and other surroundings. By means of this attachment the use of a spoon, and etc..., is considerably facilitated, and the child will be able to feed itself in a very short time and is not tempted to use its left hand in eating as an accessory to the spoon or other article, nor, as is so often the case, to disregard all accessories and make use of its hands alone."  
Assorted "etiquette spoons," a training fork and other youth utensils ~ "It is ironic that we repeatedly encourage babies to burp after eating.  Within a short while however, we are just as vigorously teaching them not to burp at the table." Maura Graber, The RSVP Institute of Etiquette
Though these spoons were not new, being marketed as "Etiquette Spoons" was a new development in the late 1800s.

Below is another "child training" utensil patent from 1947.  While newer designs for children's utensils, and their patents, still show up now into the 21st century, they are designed many times more for convenience and for novelty, as opposed to learning proper utensil use.  The period from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, really was the golden age for utensils and other table items designed for teaching table manners to children. 
This 1947 "training implement for infants" had a "swivel" feature that I am sure kept toddlers entertained, but probably did little to teach the child to move the spoon in the swivel motion himself, or herself.

Contributor Maura Graber has been teaching etiquette to children, teens and adults, and training new etiquette instructors, for nearly a quarter of a century, as founder and director of The RSVP Institute of Etiquette.  She is also a writer, has been featured in countless newspapers, magazines and television shows and was an on-air contributor to PBS in Southern California for 15 years.

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