Lunchtime in the classroom with fifteen preschoolers is very busy. Once containers are opened, hot foods are heated, milk straws are inserted into their boxes, and napkins are found, things change. Drastically. Lunch becomes intimate. Not quiet, but a place of comfort where children (and teachers) share their stories. Children talk about their dogs and cats, their grandparents, their sleepovers. They share what is on their mind, and also in their heart. It’s how we become a family– we are a family at school!
Lunchbox notes are a special treat for children. I make sure that I read the note to the child: “Happy first day of school, Ella” or “Have a fun day today at school, Josh.” Last week Savannah had a special lunchbox note:
My goodness– it was a song. And, it was Savannah’s favorite song. I knew this was special, so I started to sing the song to her. She was a bit taken aback, not wanting to be the center of attention. So, I stopped singing and apologized.
Suddenly Allie, who was sitting close by and heard everything, raised her voice in singing the song. All alone. Then other children started to sing along. I joined in as well. Savannah beamed!
These are the moments that matter most. Connecting with children is one thing, but children connecting with each other is another thing. Lunch seems to be where it all happens, the important stuff. Much like sitting around a campfire with friends, it is the perfect environment to establish friendships, trust, confidence, and language skills.
This is how important it is: A study was done to determine if there was a common denominator among the National Merit Scholars. Were they all class presidents? Captains of their sport teams? President of the Drama Club or Literary Magazine? Were they all volunteers in their community? Surely there had to be one thing that they all shared in common.
There was one, and only one: every National Merit Scholar had dinner with their family at least four times a week.
Sounds simple? Not at all! At the dinner table they developed language skills, thinking and reasoning, empathy, humor, patience, compassion… the list is a long one and a good one.
These are life skills, the foundation for learning.
This is what I do in my classroom at lunchtime. I create the “dinner with the family” environment for children. Everyone’s opinion is valued. We are listeners, and we are storytellers. Oh, the stories we tell! Jennie Stories (from my childhood) are beloved. Why? Because through storytelling, children know that their teacher had the same fears and tears. Every day is a Jennie story, from spiders to bats to birthday cakes to the Peanut Man…
I know the difference this makes with the children I teach. What do I tell parents? Have dinner together, talk, listen, tell stories. It makes all the difference in the world.