Like with every area of your provision, it is worth asking the question 'what is snack for?' before you start to plan for it.
At it most basic level, snack is an opportunity for young children, who burn lots of energy in their play and exploration of your environment, to re-fuel. But, in truth there is SO much more that snack could and should be than that. At best it can offer some brilliant leaning opportunities. At worst it is a bag of apples and some cartons of milk dumped on a table.
Halton Lodge have a small but perfectly formed snack area with a 'Have a go if you want to' waiting area with leveled challenges in it
There are a number of ways of running your snack sessions, from sit down and eat together to free flow. There should be no hard and fast rule for what you should do when as long as your snack sessions have purpose and are linked to learning as opposed to being a glorified chimps tea party!
At the beginning of your year, or with a new intake of children, you will be stopping and starting your children regularly to re-enforce rules and routines and celebrate individual achievements.
During this 'settling' in period, a collective snack time can be brilliant for coaching the children through what snack is all about. How you eat your snack, how to pour your water and in some cases how to suck through a straw -trickier than you think if you have never done it before!
It is also a time for practitioners to remind children about rules and routines and celebrate successes.
Another situation where you might consider as 'stop and sit down' snack is to support your Key Person role. Sharing food is a very social thing to do and meeting and eating in small groups can really help to develop relationships as well as provide fantastic opportunities for adults to tap into children's interests and then use what they have found out to link into learning for high level engagement.
I worked with one setting where the Key Adults had a picnic basket complete with blanket, plates and cups. At snack time the children found a space either indoors or out and set up their 'snack picnic'.
In this particular setting many of the children lacked a range of vocabulary and talk. So, each week alongside the usual 'chat' we planned in a talk focus. So one week it might have been talk for questioning, another talk for conflict resolution. This didn't mean that this was all that was talked about, but it gave adults a focus for their snack talk which they could also use in their other interactions with children in and around the setting.
Here at Hamstel Infant School they have made soup together and are now sharing it for snack.
Usually as time goes on and the children get better at using the environment independently, you will do far less stopping and starting as you want to facilitate opportunities for deep level learning, exploration and discovery.
This is when a self service snack comes into its own. Sometimes practitioners are a bit wary of giving children responsibility for their own snack. Someone did once ask me what I would do if I child took two milks instead of one! I don' t think my answer of 'Call the milk police and have them arrested' went down too well!
There is really no need to be wary though. With some good organisation and high expectations very young children can be very self-sufficient.
Here are children at Noah's Ark pack away pre-school self-managing their own snack - yes, that is a toaster in the background on the table and no there is no adult (in a tabard) standing watch.
and they do the washing up...
This is a similar idea in St Andrew's C of E Primary. These children are mixed Nursery and Reception and they completely self manage their 'Seedlings Café'. The school is in an are of high social deprivation so the café serves breakfast at the beginning of the day.
Once the breakfast rush is over the cereal and toast are replaced with milk, water and fruit.
There are 2 waiters aprons which the children take turns to wear. They manage the length of time that they are a waiter by using a timer.
The children were surprisingly good at sticking to their time without adult intervention, but there were one or two serial offenders who would have kept their apron on all day, but staff were aware of who these children were and kept an eye out for them.
Snack like this is brilliant for supporting independence and interaction but as there is no adult 'manning' the space it can also become a haven for 'avoiders' who will happy sit and spend half an hour chewing on an apple.
Alongside the independence element of the snack area, you also want to introduce other learning opportunities. This can be as simple as having a photograph or object on the table for the children to look at and talk about.
For any Continuous Provision to be effective, adults need to be mobile within the learning space. You should be taking learning to children rather than pulling children to you. If you set up an activity at a table in one area of your setting and then call children to you it becomes impossible for you to then ensure that what is going on in your Continuous Provision is really taking children's learning forward and not just low level holding tasks.
So, as an adult is moving through the learning space they are able to drop into snack, re-set any of the resources that need resetting, check for loiterers and engage in a bit of quality talk.
This is snack time at St Augustine’s 'Primadona Café'. The waiters are also on a timer and their job is to write down the name of the diner and their preferred snack option before serving it to them.
Whilst waiting, the snackers had some great pictures to look at that promoted a lot of talk.
If you are trying to encourage children to talk then you need to give them something that they are going to want to talk about. Humor and terror (within reason) often work well as does showing them photos of past events, getting them to remember, recall, sequence and articulate their memories.
the shark creeping up on the boy (if sharks can creep?) was a particular favourite!
There will also be times when you work in the snack area alongside the children to help them to prepare what they are going to eat and then join them in eating it!
nursery children learning to cook and cut with a sharp knife
rocking that pinny Mr. Clegg!
Although I am a fan of keeping most other areas of your provision as ambiguous and open ended as possible snack is one area that you can really go to town on 'dressing'. This not only gives your environment impact but also offers up some great opportunities to re-enforce other areas of learning like roleplay, mathematics, understanding of the world, mark making -the list is endless!
Whether it be a cafe, ice cream parlour, tea shop, tree house or all American 1950's diner, just make sure it has purpose and impact as well as good food and quality talk!