Who Wants to Set the Table?
In a family, the children are not like guests at a hotel where everything is served them. It is essential that they share in the family chores, and the first one that comes to mind because it is a simple, daily activity is setting the table. This is even one of the first tasks which the children can fulfill, and they will be proud of being judged able to set the table.
Perhaps you are afraid that the little ones might break the dishes. The risk is not so great. See how eager they are to prove to you that they are worthy of the trust given them. They know how to pay attention and be careful when they need to. Is it not better to take this minimal risk of a broken glass than to turn our children into selfish creatures disinclined to render service. If needs be, you can put out plastic dishes at the beginning of their apprenticeship.
How often should one ask for their help? Setting the table is a daily chore and so you ought to request this help daily in order to accustom the children to keep up the effort and not to content themselves with an occasional attempt at helpfulness. You may organize yourself according to the composition of the family: you might ask for a volunteer every time, but then the risk is that it will be the same child with a generous temperament; and what should you do if there is no volunteer? Setting the table could also be the privilege of the youngest child whereas the older ones are tapped for harder chores. Or each child may take a turn at table duty either for lunch or dinner. This is a task which can be asked of both boys as well as girls when they are younger. But as they grow older it would be better to ask of the boys other, more masculine services, like taking out the trash or mowing the lawn.
You should not hesitate to remind the children that it is time to set the table, especially the little ones. The other children will then realize that we are getting close to meal time, and that will be the sign for them to set aside their games or homework and wash their hands before heading to the dining room.
At the beginning, you will ask the little ones to set only the essential things: plates, glasses, and silverware, but little by little you will teach them to go all the way in their chore without forgetting the details: trivets, serving utensils, water pitcher, bread basket, butter dish and knife, napkins, and salt and pepper… So as to have a well-ordered meal, ensure yourself that at the end of the table you have the last dishes, be they cheese or dessert, with the accompanying small plates. This will avoid unnecessary trips to the kitchen.
When guests are present, it is the time to train the older girls in their role of future house mistress. To prepare a pleasant table is not a burdensome chore: do we not speak of the arts of the table? Matching table cloth and napkins, festive plates, a centerpiece will be set out. They will also have to foresee the different serving dishes and the change of plates in function of the menu, without forgetting the details: for instance, washing seldom-used dishes, setting up the wine glasses to the right and the water glasses to the left, etc.
As simple as setting the table may look, it is a way to develop many qualities in the children: knowing how to serve, attentiveness, perseverance, the sense of work well done, that is to say, in the least details, a sense of harmony, knowing the rules of etiquette and manners… It would be a pity not to ask this of your children, either from not knowing how, or from not wanting to be helped!