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Lunchtime routine help


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I work at a sessional playgroup that has lunchtime provision on two days, where the parents provide lunchboxes. The children all sit together with a member of staff on 2 or 3 tables to have their lunch but we have an issue with what to do with the children as and when they finish...

Some of the children just sit, eat and finish without any fuss (great!) whilst others dither, chat and generally don't eat until they have one to one 'encouragement'. We ask the children to go and sit in the book corner when they are finished so as not to distract those who are still eating, but the really slow ones seem to take ages, which is stopping the others from getting back to playing.

We are all in one large church hall, except for a small side room that we have use of - we did think about having a member of staff in there reading stories or doing an activity with the children as they finish, but we still have some slow eaters that are at the table 40 minutes after we've started.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how they manage this time or how we could have minimal disruption for all the children, both those who are still eating (which we want to allow them adequate time to do so) and also those who are busting to get back to playing!

Thanks x

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Screens!! We are one big hall too.

We 'grade' our children - so the faster eaters are on one table and the slower ones are together.

Once finished they can go and play with 'quiet activities' freely. This includes most areas really. The screens minimise the distraction for the slower eaters.

The screens often get moved with maybe a few really slow eaters as sometimes they like to 'watch and eat' :rolleyes:

We put no real pressure on times though, however that said -we do encourage the 'school leavers' during the summer term to speed up a bit :D ...Although to be honest this often involves educating the parents to supply a more manageable lunch rather than half a Tesco trolley worth of food!!!

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Ah, that's interesting about the 'grading'. I've only just started so had two lunchtimes and the children got moved to one table so activities could be re-started which no-one liked doing, but it was essential.

We also need to look at the tables we are using I think as the two used yesterday were right in the middle of the main playing area. I think we need to use those closer to the back of the hall.


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Hello, we are also in a similar situation and we also have our afternoon children joining us for lunch. Children eat for how long they wish but there are normally 3-4 staff to encourage eating. Staff also sit at the table with the children and sometimes their own lunch. We do like to use lunch as a social experience and there will be group discussions as we try to set up the tables as one big dinner table.

When children finish they can go and choose an independent activity and often if 3-4 children have left the table a staff member will also move into the other area of the room to supervise and interact.

I think it probably takes a bit of time for both your staff and the children to get used to the routine. I am sure you will work out what suits your setting best.

Best wishes :1b

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If I've read it right sounds like your new in post to this setting? If so good luck .... We have a large hall and a side room, children help (ha ha ha) to tidy then we have a group time while one staff sets up tables in side room then children go home or wash hands if staying for lunch all toys in the side room go away bar a few, as said above we try to sit our slower eaters on one table which is conveniently our rolling snack table which is located in the side room. When children finish they know to put their lunch bags on the trolley but they must have an adult check it first, they then play with some toys or read a book until there's a few of them (around 5, just using personal judgement too) then a staff member opens up the large hall and staff return to the hall as the children progressively return to the main hall. The slow eaters can take as long as they want as with it being the snack table the afternoon snack kicks straight off as the afternoon session children arrive so eating at this table is not something out of the norm. We have 25 children for lunch on a normal session.

During lunch one staff member neatens up the main hall replenishes things changes water tray etc ready for it all to start again! We have 30mins to turn our lunch club round and open the door for afternoon session.

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We have thirty children having lunch - a mix of packed lunches from home and setting provided lunches. We are a single room church hall so there is no way that we provide a separate room for lunch.

Our routine is far from perfect and the first half term of the school year is always seems to have a feel of "organised mayhem" but it get's better as the year goes on and children A) eat a bit quicker, B) parents providing packed lunches are encouraged to provide a child's lunch rather than a builder's lunch and C) children become familiar with the routines.

We clear our table top activities away for lunch (with the children helping) and lay up our lunch tables for lunch. Over time we have "invested" in paper table cloth rolls as it makes for easier and speedier clearing up so they go on first with little battery operated tea lights and silk flower arrangements so that lunch becomes "an event".

Lunch is very much a social occasion and staff sit and eat their lunch with the children - lots of conversation and also discussions about healthy eating choices, remembering our pleases and thank yous etc and for the children who have the setting provided lunch the children make their own lunches too so plenty of spreading, folding, rolling etc of wraps, bread and rolls and fillings or if it is pasta, rice our cous cous then choosing their accompaniments. The "carb" part of lunch is followed by platters of fresh fruit and vegetables with a "special" each week for the children to try and then a dairy based desert e.g., rice pudding, fromage, etc.

Once lunch is finished then the children are encouraged to help clear their tables. We also then have a teeth cleaning session (most appropriate given the latest news about children's dental health :D ). Whilst tables of children wait to clean their teeth we play table top games. This year we used our Sainsburys vouchers to get "food snap" and "food lotto" games - we generally have five lunch tables so we got five sets and we find this helps.

Throughout lunch our book corner area and floor based activity stay out so that children have an activity to return to after lunch. As the children from each table go off to clean their teeth their table is wiped down, swept under and relaid with a table top activity as well. Our outdoor area is also available and children are able to go outdoors and play too.

Most of the children who have a setting provided lunch finish together - if we absolutely have to we will move the very slowest children to a different table but this is usually when children are eating a packed lunch provided from home.

We have very generous adult:child ratios which makes this possible - I don't think that we could do this working on minimum ratios and certainly not using 1:13 ratios.

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Hi we run a lunch club on three days of the week.

The children are allowed to eat at their own pace, some fast, some slow.

It's a lovely social occasion, with staff normally eating their lunch too.

Once the children are finished they go and play with a selection of toys within our large hall.

Generally two staff sit with the remaining children eating and the third member of staff goes off and interacts with the other children.

Works well for us.

We often play a game, enjoy construction or go out in the garden too.

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now ive had a bit of a long day so forgive me if this is a stupid question but why can't the children just go and play?

Not a stupid question, just an issue of logistics! Tables used for lunch are those used for the majority of the activities and are in the hall (no option for lunch in the side room) So whilst we encourage the children to go and read a book or play on the stage area, there are inevitably those who want to stomp around and then the other children get drawn into those games. It's a management of time/space issue and as someone else said, getting the newer ones used to the routines and expectations.

We have it as a social experience, with staff having lunch too, but all staff are sat at tables so when the first few finish there isn't a member of staff free to occupy them. Our children tidy up after themselves too by putting lunchboxes back in the box. Most do then go and sit in the book corner, but some don't, which is where the distraction starts!

Will try moving the tables and putting slower children on one table today and let you know how we get on!

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Thanks running Bunny ...we too are in a large hall and have up to 15 staying for lunch club each day (lots of comings and goings!)

Our staff are on a rota for lunch so early or late so some are with the children and the others are resetting the hall. The children finish their lunch and then go and play ....most of our activities are not on table top...would this be possible for you ( i assume you use the tables for the lunch group? Picnic blankets (cheap ones £5) can be set up with boxes of duplo /lego or a couple of tool boxes of pens/pencils and paper etc could easily be placed on these...would that work for you? I have a child who has a food disorder ..it can take him up to 2 hours to eat his lunch so there's no way we could wait for him to finish! :o

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The amount of tables is another issue - there is no/very limited floor play opportunities during the session. I like that idea - thanks :-)

Typically, today we were over and done with within 45 minutes apart from one child, so we were able to clean down and get going a lot quicker than on Monday! I do think that there should be 'something' for the children to do rather than an expectation that they sit and look at a book or play in the home corner, which is also on the stage.

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