Independent Meal Times at The Country Mouse Nursery
It is never too early for children to learn to be independent and develop practical life skills to lay a strong foundation. From a very young age, children are very capable and often show far more interest in things that adults use and do than their own toys. They benefit from working alongside adults, copying what adults do, imitating adults’ behaviours and having the opportunity to repeat skills until they have mastered them.
This can often start in the home corner which helps them begin to make sense of their immediate world and practise their social and emotional skills as they start to express their feelings, develop a sense of empathy and listen to the ideas of others. These skills can also be practised in real life if we promote an ethos where children are expected and encouraged to help out with the daily routines of the day, including laying the table ready for lunch, using glasses instead of plastic cups, self-serving their own food at snack time, lunch time and at teatime and washing their own dishes.
There are so many learning opportunities for children while they are learning these skills, without them realising. There are language opportunities such as learning new vocabulary, developing fine and gross motor skills, coordination, sequencing and developing concentration, self-esteem and developing a sense of maturity.
It all starts with children helping to prepare the table for mealtimes. Setting out the plates, knives, forks, spoons, glasses. This allows for opportunities for developing responsibility, learning mathematics, and is the beginning of the sequence of events leading up to eating a meal and then clearing away. The children here at The Country Mouse Nursery enjoy taking part in the process of getting ready for lunch, they love to lay the tables, then self-serve their own meal which aides the development of their coordination and fine motor skills. The practise of this requires repetition to begin with until the skills have been mastered and then carried out with confidence. Children can also develop a sense of being part of a community and developing positive relationships with staff and their peers as they are often involved in preparing food for the whole nursery and then sharing a meal together.
A hands-on approach to mealtimes is also a good opportunity for children to discuss healthy eating and the importance of a varied diet. We encourage the children to think about their portion size when self-serving; assisting them with only taking what they will eat and going back for seconds if they want more. Not only is this the perfect opportunity to talk about portion size and being healthy it also helps them to develop their ability to self-regulate and understand their own needs and likes and dislikes. As practitioners, we are able to learn more about our children as individuals and value their thoughts and opinions throughout mealtimes.
Children’s independence and responsibility is an important part of them developing themselves as well rounded individuals with a good understanding of the world around them and a positive outlook on sharing responsibilities. Furthermore, there are lots of learning opportunities in everyday chores and tasks that can support children’s wider development such as maths and language acquisition.
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