Do you embrace daily snack as a learning opportunity or is it something to be endured and gotten over with as quickly as possible? You thought it would look like this:

But actually it looks more like this:

Is snack in your early years setting a relaxed, open event or timetabled and rushed?

As an SLT who has visited hundreds of early years settings I've seen plenty of evidence of both styles and it's no secret I'm a big fan of one and not the other.

Take the time-tabled snack where all 30 children sit down at the same time; it always seems to be an endurance test for the adults who are too busy preparing the food, distributing it in the middle of tables for the children select (no talking required) and then hovering around the tables, busily intervening only when something goes wrong "Ciaran, look you're making a mess. Stop squeezing your carton." Sure, the kids get fed but think of all the missed opportunities for language development, social interaction, fine-motor skills, self-help and independence. 

And the noise. Lots of noise but not conversation. Children will regularly say "it's too noisy" long before the adult suddenly decides so and then shouts above the noise "there is too much noise in here!" (Thus modelling that the only way to be heard is to shout loudly :/ )

I'm getting stressed just writing about it!

Now lets move on to the other type of snack-time - unscheduled, relaxed and full of language opportunities for the kids.

There's a member of staff sitting at each table, supporting and modelling appropriate behaviour for the kids. There's not enough space for all the children to sit down, but thats ok because its an open snack policy. A bit like a kiosk, the children go up to the food bar and ask for the food they would like. Then they post their names in a box when they're done. I love what I see;

  • Children involved in food preparation - peeling carrots, cutting bananas, spreading butter on their crackers. Yes, it takes more time but there are literacy and numeracy opportunities there not to mention language-learning, fine motor, and self-help.
  • Adults modelling language, encouraging children to ask "would you like banana or apple or both?" This is great for encouraging social interaction at a language level with which the child can cope.
  • Adults are commenting on what the kids are doing, using their name, so the children learn their peers' names quicker.
  • The children are happy to wait and listen because food is a great motivator.
  • Visual prompts remind the children what's expected and encourages independence.
  • Although there's a lot of chatting, overall it's a quieter, calmer environment so less noisy and stressful for both kids and adults.
  • The children don't feel like they're performing (like they might in 'big circle time') so they are more likely to feel relaxed enough to tell adults thing they might otherwise never have mentioned, like what they had for breakfast.
  • The adult is 100% present in the conversation , having fun and interacting, at the children's level. 

In summery, snack-time is my favourite activity for language enriching - whether it's rushed and stressful or relaxed and interactive, well that's up to you!

Great vocabulary to introduce at snacktime: