The educational paper plate

While perusing Real Simple the other day, I came across an ad that perfectly sums up the differences between the modern philosophy of child and house care, and the more dominant one 40 years ago.

The ad was for Solo paper products, noting that “L is for learning. T is for together.” Under a photo of a mom and a preschool-aged kid, the text noted that “Numbers and letters on our new Sesame Street cups, plates and bowls make anytime a great time to learn that “F” is for fun!”

There is, of course, a certain humor to the idea that every moment needs to be primed for learning – even if the kid is just having a snack. But what’s also funny about the ad is that the mom and her kid are clearly in their kitchen where, presumably, there are real dishes. Yet they’re eating off paper plates. Why?

Some would say it’s wasteful, and it is, but here’s the deeper message. The mother sees her job as teaching her son his letters and numbers, not washing the dishes. Indeed, if she’s washing the dishes, she’s not sitting there experiencing that “T is for together.” According to various time-usage surveys, in 1965, married moms spent, on average, 5.1 hours per week washing the dishes, and 1.5 hours engaged in interactive/educational activities with their children. By 2000, this had changed to 1.3 hours doing dishes and 3.3 hours doing interactive/educational activities. The Solo marketers seem to have caught on to that (even if they may be a bit off on the green marketing message).

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