Transforming lunchtime helps improve children’s behaviour and self-esteem

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children eating

Bellevue Nursery has dramatically improved lunchtimes from being a mess to a success! By introducing crockery, cutlery, vases for flowers and much more, children learnt how to treat these resources carefully, the value of respect and reinforce responsibilities. Encouraging children to develop their conversational and social skills has resulted in happy, confident and independent children.

Number of learners: 23
Age range: 3-4 years
Date of inspection:  October 2017

Context and background to sector-leading practice

Meal times at the setting used to be a time to dread.  All lunches were plated up in advance, which meant that children could not choose what they wanted to eat.  The plates, cups and cutlery were plastic.  There was not much time for children to eat their food and their behaviour was difficult to manage.  As a result, levels of wellbeing for the children and the practitioners were low. 

The nursery proprietor recognised that improvement was essential.  Leaders understood that there was a lot of potential for children to learn through hands-on experiences at lunchtime and they decided to make the most of these opportunities.  Initially, the setting arranged a trial with a small group of children.  Practitioners involved the children in the whole mealtime experience, letting them set the tables, serve the food and help clean the dining room after everyone had finished.  This made lunchtimes a happier and more positive and productive time for children and setting staff.  This practice has become embedded in the setting’s work over the past 10 years.

Description of nature of strategy or activity identified as sector-leading practice

Following the successful trial, the proprietor developed the lunchtime provision further.  The setting invested in china plates and metal cutlery, tablecloths, vases for flowers, child-sized serving dishes, and cups and saucers.  The children had to learn to treat the resources carefully so that they did not break them or come to any harm using them.  Taking on these real responsibilities helped improve children’s behaviour and their self-esteem.

When children are old enough to move into the pre-school, practitioners introduce them to the lunchtime routine gradually.  They model different skills carefully, such as how to serve food from a dish onto a plate, and how to use a knife and fork effectively.  This means that children understand exactly what they are expected to do.  As children become more proficient at handling the crockery and cutlery, practitioners encourage them to become increasingly independent.  All children are given small tasks to carry out.  For example, they make sure that there are enough plates on the table and choose the flowers for the table centre.  This involves everyone meaningfully and gives children a strong sense of achievement and belonging.  Practitioners eat alongside the children.  This provides perfect opportunities to encourage children to develop their conversational skills and try different food textures and tastes as they sit around the table with their friends.

Practitioners plan effectively for children to practise and embed the skills they learn at lunchtimes during their free play.  For example, they provide opportunities for children to use china plates, pour drinks and wash up in the role-play area.

What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?

Nearly all children are extremely independent at meal times.  They co-operate very well with one another and develop strong social skills.  For example, they share clearing up tasks and make sure that these are completed to a high standard.  Children develop a strong sense of fairness when they share out food, and understand that everyone should have a sensible portion size.  They develop their physical control effectively when they manage challenges such as pouring suitable amounts of gravy with care.

Nearly all children transfer these skills successfully to other areas of provision throughout the nursery session.  They are confident and independent, maintain interest in activities and stay on task for sustained periods. 

Parents provide positive feedback, regularly saying that their children behave well at mealtimes at home and when eating out. 

How have you shared your good practice?

The setting hosts ‘practice worth sharing’ sessions for settings across the consortia to see how the lunchtime routine works.  Leaders share their good practice through presentations at foundation phase leader network meetings.