It may be a common misconception to think that children in preschool are mainly learning their colors, shapes and letters. And every once in awhile the adults in their lives need a break so they plop them at a table and give them a snack. But the real truth is children's learning is constant with no breaks and this includes snack time. I have found some very important life skills are learned during this "break" in our day and here are my top ten.
10. The importance of hand washing before meal prep and eating.
We know preschoolers thrive on repetition and sometimes as adults with preschoolers we think all we do is repeat ourselves a thousand times a day! When it comes to an important habit like washing hands before consuming foods, that repetition is a crucial life-long skill. Add in a catchy hand washing song to make it more enjoyable for the children.
9. To use ceramic dishes and glass drinking glasses
I know, I know, I can hear some of your panicked breathing from here. They will drop it! The dishes will break, the food and drinks will spill! Aaaaaah!!!
And maybe yes. But maybe not. I choose to believe in the best outcomes.
If something does spill, then we will also teach the children to clean it up. And we sneak in a bonus skill to the list!
8. To serve themselves
Following along the path of allowing more independence, preschool is the stage of life where a child can typically start using serving utensils more independently. Do not expect perfection the first time. Spills and messes happen. That's how they learn. Isn't that how we learned after all? Be patient and allow them to master their success.
7. To improve hand-eye-mouth coordination
Hopefully this skill is something that has already been worked on in the toddler years. The preschool snack table is a great place for a child to practice putting food on a spoon and fork and bringing them to his mouth.
6. New fine motor skills like peeling oranges, and opening wrappers
I have found a variety of snacks work wonderfully to improve fine motor skills: peeling an orange, opening a granola bar or cereal bar, slicing a banana, peeling a cheese stick, spreading cream cheese on a bagel or butter on banana bread, dipping apple slices in peanut butter, and rolling up turkey and cheese slices.
When a child asks for help with any of these tasks, I always say, "Did you try it first? I think you can!" And then if they are struggling, I help. I'd love to hear of other ideas you have for snacks that help with this skill in the comments.
5. To try new foods because my friends make it look tasty
We usually hear about peer pressure in the adolescent years and in a negative connotation. However, when it comes to reaching a new milestone in the preschool years or being brave enough to try a new food, peer pressure can be a beautiful thing. When one child says, "I can make my celery crunch the loudest!" That becomes an irresistible challenge to her friend who then must try the celery!
A child who has always been afraid to try salsa because it is spicy, sees everyone at the table, surviving the mild salsa, curiosity takes over and the child may dip their corn chip in the salsa.
4. To try new foods because I helped make it.
As much as you are comfortable, I strongly recommend allowing the children in your care to help out with meal preparation. It may surprise you what putting their hands in the batter (proverbially or literally speaking) will inspire some children to try. When they feel empowered and a part of the action, they are more likely to sample their own cooking.
With the above recipe, have the child decide which fruits and how much of each to add to his smoothie. With the pizzas in a similar fashion let each child top her own pizza with her favorite ingredients that you have prepared ahead of time. (Chopped onions, peppers, tomatoes, olives, pepperoni, mushrooms)
3. To learn table manners
What one family or teacher considers table manners may differ greatly from what another family considers so I won't camp out long here. I want to focus more on the point that the table is the perfect setting to teach a child what is expected around meal time in your home culture.
2. To have back and forth conversation
As a preschool teacher, snack time is one of my favorite times of the day. Yes, maybe because they are all sitting down for at least 5 minutes. But there is also something so natural about putting a group of humans of any age around food that gets them talking, I have heard some beautiful, rich vocabulary flow from around those child-sized table and chairs. “Did I tell you guys what happened to my dog Sunny? She had to go to the doggy doctor! That’s called the veterinarian! She has a cast and a cone around her neck and she is very very very sick and there’s medicine. And …….”
"I'm going to Washington for my birthday and I'm going to go camping and it will be cold because it's in the Northwest, but I will still have cake and sprinkles but I can't have a party and you can't come."
I could write a book on the precious things I hear that stem organically from simply sitting together sharing a meal.
Now we have reached the top of my list! My number one skill w that can be taught during preschool snack time is for a child to listen to his hunger meter. Let's do away with the "clean plate club" as a goal for children to reach. I do not like or want wasted food but we should encourage children to recognize the feelings of hunger and satisfaction. We want children to listen to their bodies and eat appropriately.
We should also work to do away with phrases such as: "if you finish this you can have that” or eat something “gross” to have something “good." Trust me when I say children naturally are going to prefer sweet and sugary things on their own. Let's not make it worse by making those things a reward. When we push children to eat past the point of being satisfied or reward them either with praise or a highly desired food we complicate the idea of food and meal time and can cause problems that can last a lifetime.
Well, there you have it. These are 10 skills that preschoolers are working on and they don't even know it! They think they are just filling their bellies between outside play and music time or whatever else your schedule dictates. I would love to hear any additions you have to my list. I'm sure we could come up with many more!
As always, keep playing, keep learning, have fun and buen provecho!