The Lunchbox Note and Storytelling: Lifetime Lessons

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.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty-five years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I was a live guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. I am highlighted in the seventh edition of Jim Trelease's million-copy bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital, and the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
This entry was posted in Early Education, Imagination, Inspiration, storytelling, Teaching young children and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

89 Responses to The Lunchbox Note and Storytelling: Lifetime Lessons

  1. Meg says:

    Real dinner time together! M

  2. What a wonderful experience for your students, Jennie! I’m sure they look forward to lunch everyday. And, you’re right. Language is dynamic. It happens during meaningful social interactions. Fantastic post! 🙂

  3. Even though we did often have dinner together when my kids were teens, I wish I could go back and make dinner-time extra special for them every single night. I have a feeling with this latest generation, family dinners are even more rare or at least not dinner without devices. Good for you for showing the kids how fun family dinners can be!

    • Jennie says:

      I also wish I could go back and make dinner time special every night. But, I think we both had far more of those dinners than today’s families do. I will always be an advocate for family dinners. My class loves it! Many thanks, Marcia.

  4. That is fascinating that the dinner together ties the success of these people together.

  5. Victo Dolore says:

    Such a lovely post! The weight of words. So often we focus on how words harm and not enough on the power they have to build and strengthen each other.

  6. Oh, what a lovely post. Thank you for sharing. And for caring.

  7. Ritu says:

    This is so lively, considering may families don’t sit together to eat much anymore!

  8. beetleypete says:

    I never had a lunchbox, so no notes for me. My Dad worked away a lot too, so family dinners were a rarity. Once I got older, I valued any time around a dinner table, whether with family or friends. You are right to place so much importance on that experience, Jennie.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  9. Dan Antion says:

    Very good advice and a very good practice on your part.

  10. That’s awesome, Jennie. I didn’t know about “dinner with family.” It wasn’t something I had as a kid. How wonderful that you create that in the classroom, because not everyone has it at home. ❤

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Diana. You’re right, so many children don’t get that, and is is far more than just the food. Did you ever consider the link between your childhood family dinners and your skills at writing and imagination? Interesting! 🙂

  11. This post is so special, Jennie. Lots of children don’t eat meals together with their family anymore due to the modern lifestyle. So wonderful that you help to recreate this special daily event.

  12. anne leueen says:

    What you are doing with these little ones is SO important! Wonderful thank you for sharing it with us.

  13. Lady G says:

    Excellent post! I have a son who just graduated from Emory University (YAAAAY!!!) and a daughter who is in 6th grade.
    We’ve always cooked and eaten together. Lot’s of good conversations happened during those times.

  14. shoes says:

    Ahh! I love everything about this. Family dinnertime is one of the most important times of our day. Both my husband and I had families who cherished and honored the time of family around the dinner table.

  15. John Fioravanti says:

    Reblogged this on Words To Captivate ~ by John Fioravanti and commented:
    I am moved by this classroom story by Jennie Fitzkee about sharing and creating a ‘family in the classroom’ – please, read on…

  16. Wonderful post, Jennie! It’s a bit different here in Germany because there’s normally no main lunch time but only several small breaks allowing to quickly eat a sandwich before it’s back to classes.

  17. reocochran says:

    Wonderful! Super extra special times with note in lunchboxes!
    Your teaching while eating is sweet, singing Savannah, You are my sunshine. . .🌞☀
    I liked snack time while I was teaching, Jennie! Milk and graham crackers plus sharing. The children were given one day a week, rotating so they had time to bring something from home. They stood up at the table to show something. We put stars by their names to make sure this “public speaking” practice occurred (readiness experience for book reports, etc). No toy or book by Thursday? No problem! Go, raid the book shelf “here” at preschool. Or tell us a story. . .

  18. dgkaye says:

    I love how you mention your student’s name in recognition, and the lunch time gathering is such an important fundamental to sharing and communication. Well done again Jennie! :)x

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  20. What a wonderfully nurturing place your classroom must be.

  21. Though certainly not an educator or teacher, one generally finds children to be more alert, sensitive, and perhaps intuitively more intelligent, and even better intellectually curious than most adults of my generation.

  22. I do believe that even in today’s busy world something as basic as sitting around a dinner table makes the difference. I cannot even think of anyone in the younger generation that does this.

    • Jennie says:

      You are so right. Families don’t do this. If only they knew how important this is. Well, I can start with my preschool families and teach them. It grows from there.

  23. Reblogged this on bridgesburning and commented:
    Such a simple thing. I would love to hear from people who actually sit together for even one meal in a day. Alas I cannot personally think of one.

  24. Reblogged. FB, Google+ and twitter

  25. Growing up we always had all meals together. With my children we probably had at least 4 meals together a week if not more. They both were National Merit Scholars!

    Even with bad cooking🙂

  26. Darlene says:

    When our grandson would visit us each summer, he loved that we sat together at a table and had our evening meal and chatted about our day. I guess they don´t do that at his house.

  27. I agree. You can tell which families share meals together at a table. There is a thread running through that joins them. Over time it creates a tapestry of family life and memories.

  28. Pingback: The Lunchbox Note and Storytelling: Lifetime Lessons  from Jennie Fitzkee | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

  29. I am Aranab says:

    That is the healthiest thing any teacher could teach a child emotionally! Bravo

  30. practicallyspeakingsite says:

    Beautiful, we are all seeking connection, aren’t we? And who doesn’t love connecting over food! Thank you for sharing.

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