Snack time was an area of practice I struggled with but wasn’t brave enough to change until I was inspired by Dr. Mary O’Kane, on the Level 8 BA in Early Childhood Teaching and Learning, to reflect and acknowledge daily transitions in our service. In doing so I realised that we, the adults, were deciding for the children when they should have a snack: they had no real choice in the matter.
Recognising the need to change this area of practice, to give children a real voice, we discussed with them which they would prefer; snack at anytime of their choosing or snack time together. The vote for snack time at anytime was unanimous.
Over the midterm break that followed, as a staff team we set about creating a snack area which was warm, inviting and accessible for the children to use throughout the session. As the children returned from midterm break we observed them transition easily as we supported and gently guided them initially. Tuning in to the choices children were making, we did identify challenges, the main one being that at times a child may observe a free space, follow the routine of hand washing only to realise as they got to the fridge that someone else was on the chair.
In order to give the children full control and mastery over their decision making skills, we agreed that we would need to add a control to allow each child follow through on the big decision to leave their play to have a snack. We facilitated this by numbering the chairs from 1 to 5, providing corresponding number badges which hang in a designated area of the room (supporting numeracy). Now as each child finishes their snack, they hang their number badge back in its place. If children are engaged in play and contemplating snack they can look to see if a badge is available. This ensures that when they make the decision about snack time, they are learning to be confident, self-reliant and self-assured on their decision making skills. They are interacting and working co-operatively with peers (by replacing number badge) and are able to express their own needs (for snack) and have these responded to with respect and consistency.
Seamless snack time affords so many wonderful opportunities in Early Days; for children to sit with their friends and make sense of the world around them and for the educators to sit with or observe the children’s conversations. There is no rush to clean up or a need to be clock watching, seamless snack time has slowed down the pace of our day giving our children so much more time to do what they do best – PLAY!
Sinéad Early O’Brien is owner/manager of the multi award winning Early Days Montessori Playgroup, based in Kilmeague Village, Naas, Co Kildare and is part of a staff team of four early years’ educators who are qualified from level 6 to level 9. The service offers a child-led emergent curriculum with the children’s interests observed, documented, explored and extended in an environment where each child’s voice is listened to and respected. Children have access to snack time and outdoor play through seamless provision, making and self-directing their own decisions and choices. The service provides two sessions daily and caters for and works in partnership with 52 children and their families.