Safety during lunchtime at school used to mean managing behavior, making sure students did not leave campus, and ensuring everyone had enough to eat. With schools reopening around the country after extended closures, lunchtime safety is taking on a whole new look.
How can we make lunchtime a positive, safe experience when we return to in-person learning?
Importance of Lunchtime
School lunch periods have traditionally been a time for social emotional development, an opportunity for relationship building, and a much needed ‘brain break’ from the classroom.
Studies have shown that even the length of lunchtime is important. Longer lunch periods lead to higher academic achievement and better physical health. Students choose healthier options, eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, and drink more water when they have at least 25 minutes to sit and eat. Healthier lunches lead to better performance at school.
Returning to In-Person Learning
There are multiple approaches school districts are employing for returning to the classroom. Some are moving to partial day instructions and others are bringing students back on alternating days.
For the schedules that cross mealtimes, schools are getting creative with handling the students’ need to have a lunch break while keeping everyone safe.
The Lunch Problem
Districts are facing challenges in both meal distribution and consumption. How to safely distribute food to students and keep them safe while they eat it?
Many schools and districts are also taking it outside when possible. Serving and eating lunch outside, and distanced, makes it relatively easy to keep everyone safe. Adults can supervise while maintaining a healthy distance in the fresh air.
But what about when it rains or is scorching hot? What if the school yard is small and cannot accommodate 6 foot spaces between students?
What the Experts Say
CDC recommendations for meal distribution and consumption indoors include:
* Open doors and windows to increase ventilation. Fans can increase the effectiveness of open doors and windows.
* Decrease occupancy to ensure social distancing. Decrease further if increase ventilation is not possible.
* Wear a mask when not actively eating or drinking and limit talking when masks are off.
* Follow standard COVID precautions such as frequent hand washing and social distancing and clean shared surfaces with EPA approved cleaners between uses.
* Shorten lunch break to 15 minutes. Rates of transmission go up after 15 minutes, so shortening the eating time to 15 minutes lowers the risk.
Making it Better
The situation is challenging, but there are some ideas we can do to make lunchtime during this strange time a little better.
With students confined to their desks, not talking, and eating in a hurry, what can educators do to ‘normalize’ the experience? How can we keep the social emotional development, the relationship building, and the brain breaks?
It is a challenging situation, but here are a few ideas that may help:
1. Interest Activities
– Depending on the age of the students, activities can be anything from coloring pages to guided writing. Students getting to choose what they want to do from a variety of choices gives them some voice in a time when options are limited.
2. Friendly Competition
– Name That Song…Math challenges…Word searches. Anything can be a competition! As long as students do not need to talk or move around to participate, you can keep things fun while students eat their lunch.
3. Be Mindful
– Podcasts, music, and guided meditation can all be great tools to help make the lunchtime energizing and grounding for all.
As educators, we want to support students and get back into the classroom. We cannot pour from an empty cup, though. Take care of yourself too. Make sure you find time to relax, refill, and stay healthy so you can continue to be there for your students.
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