Location: indoor or outdoor (wherever the meal is being eaten!)
While the primary goal of a meal time is to provide sustenance to busy bodies, it also provides an important time of day for social development. By adding a bit of structure to your meal time you can encourage meal time as the time of day when everyone sits down together to eat and talk.
Here are some specific ways to do that:
- Wait to start the meal until everyone is sitting at the table and ready. A common way to do this is to sing a song together before beginning eating. One example is singing the first verse of "Open Shut Them," ending after the line "but do not let them in."
- Eat with your kids! It's often considered a best practice to have teachers sit and eat with the kids. It allows you to model healthy eating, as well as using a fork and knife.
- Allow self-serve. Allow children to help themselves to seconds on some items of food. Your kids might not be ready to self serve the entire meal, but put extra bread and/or fruit in communal bowls on the table. This will give them a chance to practice asking for what they want, using please & thank you, and using self-regulation (ie: not taking all of the fruit in the bowl).
- Permission to clean up. You might have kids that hardly eat at all, or quickly eat their food and are ready to move onto the next thing. Set the norm that a child must ask to get up from the table before doing so. In a practical sense, this allows you to make sure you and your co-teachers have had a chance to set up for the next thing, but it also gives the child a chance to focus on meal time with their friends a bit longer.
- We don't play with our food. Remind children that their job at meal times is to focus on eating. If you see a child playing with their food you can say, "I see that you're playing with your food. That tells me that you are done eating." Give the child a chance to resume eating, or tell them it is time to clean up.