As an early years leader, I get to keep my hand in with teaching as I provide cover for my team fairly frequently.
This week I had the pleasure of covering our nursery class one morning.
As I met with the nursery teacher to go through the planning, I eyed the rota to check my position during discovery time – and, alas, I was on snack duty.
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I love my time working with the nursery children, but snack duty is really not my favourite task. I was expecting a chimps’ tea party, to be honest. Mop bucket at the ready.
So I was pleasantly surprised to find my morning was quite the opposite.
As I approached the snack area I was immediately joined by a little group, desperately flapping their arms at me as they wanted to be picked as a snack time helper.
We spent a busy morning together working in the snack café. The children engaged in so much chatter as they went enthusiastically about their tasks, and they were so joyous…if they could have whistled while they worked, I’m sure they would.
It wasn’t always like this. We have always had a rolling snack (when pupils get to choose what they eat and often serve themselves) but until recently it wasn’t an area of practice that was particularly successful.
The teaching staff were often preoccupied with preparing large volumes of food. As they chopped up the fruit, they had their backs to the children, because of this limited interaction the children lacked the independent skills needed.
It was chaotic and no fun for the adults or the children.
Time for a change
At the beginning of term we identified the need to improve rolling snack. We reflected on the key purpose; which is to offer children opportunities to develop their independent skills. As a team, we decided to make a few small changes to improve our snack café.
First we questioned whether we really needed to do so much chopping. I shared the principles of baby-led weaning (Gill Rapley) to give the practitioners confidence in making decisions about this.
We agreed that small pears and apples were manageable as whole pieces of fruit and that we didn’t necessarily need to be chopping them up. Oranges can be peeled. Bananas can be cut in half but these are tasks which the children can help with.
We also decided that we could put more variety on the menu, offering development opportunities to the children in preparing the snacks. We call this our “special” and change it weekly.
We also wrote to parents to explain our ideas for improving rolling snack, highlighting the learning involved and to ask for a small contribution towards the costs. We now offer a wider range of snacks including: toast, crackers, raisins, dried fruit, dried cereals and berries.
The impact of these tweaks has been significant. The teaching staff are freed up to model skills such as pouring, buttering, counting, and most are talking to the children. I noticed an increase in the range of skills on offer.
There really is a wealth of learning provided in the implementation of a rolling snack, and spending my time in nursery has reminded me of just that.
The children are learning to count out the correct number of plates needed and practise cutting snacks into halves (some are becoming quite familiar with the concept of half).
Others are developing control using motor skills and hand-eye coordination as they manipulate tools. Children also have daily opportunities to practise recognising their name on the snack board.
They use language to negotiate with peers and to make decisions. Some of the two-year-olds are able to pour their own milk and spread butter on their crackers.
All of these skills offer such a huge confidence boost and children look so proud that they can do it.
These changes have made such a difference, and to keep the momentum going, I’ve been gathering new ideas that we definitely would like to try, such as:
To introduce some sort of currency (snack token or coins) to promote maths opportunities.
To develop a voting system involving children in selecting the weekly special.
To introduce dips, exploring a range of new tastes.
To place a stimulus photo at the table to promote talk time.
Helen Pinnington is early years foundation lead at St Thomas More’s Catholic Primary School in Bedhampton, Hampshire