Lunchtime eating in schools takes a variety of forms at the moment. Some are eating in bubbles in the Dining Hall, some are
eating outside when the weather is good.
In many schools, children are eating in the classroom. Some lucky classes also have the teacher eating with them, whose presence helps keep everyone calm. Many classes are managed solely by Midday Supervisors.
Wherever children are eating, I am concerned that bad habits will set in if we don’t ‘raise the game’. I am speaking to lunchtime supervisors who feel that their children are not caring at all about manners – and that they are only there to pick up the mess and ‘keep a lid on things’. I have said this many times before but if children are allowed to get away with being rude and disrespectful to any adults – they see these people as ‘weaker’ members of their society. You don’t grow up to be good citizen that way. Some children, disempowered in their home lives, will unconsciously interact in a bullying way with the weakest in their society so that they can (albeit temporarily) feel better about themselves. It is complicated isn’t it?!
What it means is that we must have firm boundaries and clear standards that are upheld by all adults and children. A whole school approach to Calm Dining Times and Happier Playgrounds is essential. No-one in the school can afford to ignore what is going on.
So What Can We Do?
Firstly, of course, we need to set standards. In my model we do this in the Dining Hall through clear guidelines set by the Dining Hall Targets we have created.
Dining Hall Rules and Targets
Our recommendation is that we have a Target of the Week in the Dining Hall which is announced in assembly. However, I believe in these current times we also need to have Target of the Week put up in the classrooms or wherever the children are eating. It might be helpful having the same target running through all the dining areas. If you need to save money, just have one poster set and alternate the different targets round the different classrooms and other dining spaces.
It is not enough for Midday Supervisors to draw children’s attention to all of these – they need to celebrate immediately the children who are keeping to the target. So, again, it is the same strategy as in the Dining Hall. Midday Supervisors carry yellow raffle tickets and every time they spot the children keeping the target, they give them a raffle ticket with a warm smile and the words “Good choice, you have lovely table manners today”; “Good choice, you have kept your table really clean” etc. These Golden Raffle Tickets then go into a Golden Box in the classroom. Once a week there is a draw with a list of rewards that children have already agreed would motivate them e.g. extra play time with a friend or the winning ticket could be swapped for house points. In my experience though, the most motivating reward is to hold a Headteacher’s Tea Party. It only takes 20 minutes, some nice biscuits and a cool drink and a chat about life or good joke telling sessions or a fun game. Children adore it. Or hot chocolate and marshmallows.
Keeping the ‘Spirit of the Dining Hall’ Going
I cannot stress highly enough how important it is to keep children linked to the usual Dining Hall practices – that they are eventually going to return to. Visual symbols such the posters will connect the two eating places in children’s minds. Visual symbols that adults and children are attached to give them a feeling of emotional safety. I’m worried that many children will find the experience of going back into the Dining Hall with the original systems being extremely frightening and chaotic. Whereas schools that have been running the system in their classrooms and other dining spaces will be able to use the same standards to highlight these in assemblies and the systems will all be consistent.
Classroom / Dining Hall Helpers
These children are interviewed and chosen for the job and go on a rota system – so they never get tired of the job. Why they love it is because good schools have a key member of staff who meets them every week, just for ten minutes, to ask them how their job is going and if they need any support. They puff up with pride and motivation.
Classrooms and other places where children eat also need to have two Dining Hall Helpers. They don’t need all the application forms and the interviewing as every child will have a turn. However, you do need to give these children special feedback and incentives. Perhaps those two children for that week could be included in the Headteacher’s Tea Party. Perhaps you could have a standard ‘Thank You’ letter signed by the Midday Supervisor that could go back to their parents. In some schools, parents do not give enough support to Midday Supervisors – I have actually heard children say, “We don’t have to do what you say, my Mum says you are just a Dinner Lady.” If Midday Supervisors are given the power to incentivise children through Golden Raffle Tickets, Thank You Letters, special treats, this can increase the community’s respect for them.
The dining experience is essential for children as it’s the most important recurring experience that they will have as adults. I do believe that teachers should teach actual table manners as part of PSHE. When I was a teacher, I used to have a role play session where we would put tablecloths on the desks with proper cutlery etc. I would teach the boring bits first about how to spear food with your fork and cut with your knife (honestly there are children today who don’t know how to do this), how not to speak with your mouth full and not to drink while your mouth is full and putting the knife and fork down occasionally. Having taught the mechanics, the fun bits can then start. We would have menus and mock food, sometimes real tasters of food from different countries. Children would be waiters and waitresses and some of us could have the role play message (not known by others) for difficult or unusual customers.
Fun is the best way of learning!
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