Building Relationships in Early Learning: One Tea Cup at a Time

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. I am a lover of coffee, but I have been thinking a lot about tea lately. Actually, it has been a couple of years now that I have been making connections between tea and relationship building in early learning. A few years ago I discovered the video, “Mint Tea and a Chat” from Early Childhood Australia. This brief vignette captures an interesting interaction and conversation between Aisha (two years, ten months) and Lauren (22 months), as they wait for morning tea. It demonstrates the importance of providing opportunities for children to build relationships with each other. I have used this video over and over again to support early learning teachers in workshops as we explore the complex process of pedagogical documentation.

While the video is only two minutes and a bit it is powerful. It is about so much more than tea. It is about relationships being at the heart of pedagogy. It is about the relationships of the children to each other and to their educators. It is about the image of the child as powerful, competent and capable.

It is Not About the Tea

Another reason I have been thinking about tea is because I have realized that nobody wants grandma’s treasures anymore. My mother-in-law has many grandchildren but when she moved into a retirement home I inherited the unwanted heirlooms. My friend and colleague, Cindy Green is an advocate for cleaning out the attic, putting out a call for donations or shopping in thrift stores to stock up and use these beautiful pieces of china with children, even as young as toddlers.

Tea Team Teacher

Recently, I was asked to speak to over one hundred kindergarten teachers and early childhood educators from one school board during a professional development day. I was asked to focus on pedagogical documentation and team building. After thinking long and hard, it dawned on me to focus on tea. Perhaps, it was because I just had the opportunity to spend time with Juliet Robertson from Creative Star Learning and she had talked about building relationships over three cups of tea. I looked up the saying and found out that it is a proverb of the Balti people, an ethnic group in Pakistan that goes like this: The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time, you are an honoured guest. The third time, you become family. Tea supports relationship building. After all, there is tea in teacher and tea in team. I began my presentation sharing some quotes about tea.

Tea Quotes

I then jumped in and talked about the importance of each member of the team feeling valued and respected. In Ontario, with the advent of full day kindergarten we have brought together two professions. I spoke out for early childhood educators as I often do. I was a little nervous about bringing up this sensitive topic. I think though, the tea helped. I heard from the organizer that that the “feedback was very deep and powerful!!” She told me about an early childhood educator who shared to a group of staff and the principal about how wonderful the day was and actually got teary in expressing gratitude that the perspective of the difficulties ECEs have in walking into a school and feeling respected had been expressed.

Tea Party InvitationLoose TeaMaking our own Tea Bags

During the session I invited the participants to make their own tea bags from a variety of loose tea set on a tablecloth inherited from my mother-in-law and using the fine china passed down from my ancestors. I then read a wonderful book called Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi.

The Tea Party in the Woods

This original fairy tale tells us about Kikko and her venture into the woods. The description of the book speaks of the main character’s blend of courage and reticence along with her inquisitive nature. In the woods, she encounters a magical tea party with animals from the forest who help her find her way to her grandma’s house. In the end, it is not clear whether Kikko imagined the tea party or if the animals simply disappeared back into the woods. The book launched conversations. Like Kikko, it takes courage for early childhood educators in Ontario to enter the hallowed halls of the big schools and create new partnerships. The tea helped. When we are thinking team building, think about tea. When we are thinking about team building, think about the competence and capacity of each member of the team. When thinking about team building think about building relationships. Where there is tea, there is hope.

7 thoughts on “Building Relationships in Early Learning: One Tea Cup at a Time

  1. Great post Diane! Your teatime description of coming into relationship mirrors my experiences following the Anishinaabeg Circle. I believe they both reflect a natural process to learning and development.


  2. I always love your posts, but this one is one of the best! So many rich connections and ways you brought your message with a wonderful ritual. Thank you for sharing this!


  3. Thanks Diane for such a motivating post. It is so easy for young children to build relationships when we present them with learning opportunities with endless possibilites. As adults working together we often don’t embrace the lessons we facilitae with the children to build strong working teams. You have inspired me to plan a team building opportunity for my colleagues and I.
    Keep on sharing and inspiring one post at a time


  4. Diane, here’s a finger play for you.
    Here’s a cup. (Offer extended cupped hand)
    And here’s a cup (offer 2nd extended cupped hand)
    And here’s a pot of tea (make a fist with thumb stuck out to the
    Pour a cup (tilt thumb down & offer pretend cup to a friend)
    And pour a cup (repeat action)
    And drink a cup with me. ( pretend to drink tea with exaggerated slurp)
    The kids love this rhyme and you’re right. It’s not about the tea. It’s about sharing, turn taking, pretend play, inclusivity…and fun.


  5. Pingback: Pedagogy in Early Childhood Education: The Art of Teaching and Learning | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

  6. Pingback: Curious about Curiosity: Ditch the Plastic and Value the Vintage! | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

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