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Promoting Independence at Snack Time

Updated: Feb 7, 2019

Contributors: That Nursery Life


With all the fun and learning going on at an early years setting, children need to keep their energy up. Most childcare providers will offer children a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack each day. Snack time can sometimes end up being a respite for early years professionals too; half an hour where the children are sat up at the table, and don’t need to be engaged in an activity. Whilst snack time can be helpful for this, it’s a shame to let some great teachable moments go to waste. Consider making the most of snack time every one in a while to review children’s progress…





Promoting Independence at Snack Time


Snack time doesn’t generally involve food which is hot, or particularly spill-able. This makes it much easier to implement an approach which encourages children to be more independent than main meal times. Many settings opt for a rolling snack time or café style snack. This means setting out a table with large serving bowls of snack, jugs of milk and water, bowls and cups, and then allowing children to come and serve themselves a snack when they want it.

Nutritionists highlight the importance of avoiding a grazing culture developing in your setting. Be sure to only have snack available for 30 – 60 minutes at a time. If children can access snacks at any time of day, their interest in and appetite for main meals may deteriorate.


By allowing children the freedom to decide whether or not they are hungry for a snack, you are helping them to learn self regulation. Having the independence to serve themselves both food and drink is fantastic for building self confidence, and expressing their preferences. And finally, with a number of children accessing a self service snack simultaneously, the opportunities for sharing, and working alongside their peers are huge.




Developing Gross Motor Skills


Whether through a café style snack time, or a more traditional system where all the children are set up together, there are simple ways to encourage children’s gross motor development. Learning how to hold a jug, and to pour a drink gently into a cup is a simple but effective starting point.


Gross motor development can be further enhanced by introducing different serving tools to snack time. If snack consists of different sorts of cut up fruit, consider providing different tools for each fruit. A large spoon for scooping chopped apple. Tongs for selecting larger orange segments. Kitchen tweezers for picking up pieces of banana. Even a fish slice for lifting up thin discs of mango or other soft fruit.

It is also worth offering some variation from the usual jug for serving drinks. Ask parents to bring any used drink bottles, both large 2 litre ones and small 300ml too. Depending on the age of the children, offer them drinks to pour from these. If you’re offering a warm drink on a cold day, place a (not hot) saucepan on the table and allow children to use a ladle to serve themselves. Children will also love having a warm drink outside from a thermos flask, and the action of untwisting the lid, pushing the button at the top and then pouring out some liquid are all great gross motor tasks too.





Supporting Maths Learning at Snack Time


There are few things that will capture children’s attention as effectively as food. This makes snack time a great opportunity to explore mathematical concepts. You can start by working with concepts of more and less. Encouraging children to observe and talk about which of their friends has more snack in their bowl, or which serving dish as the least snack left will lead to increased use of mathematical language. This learning can be extended further by introducing a set of scales to the table so that children can start measuring the food. Which is heavier; a whole apple or a whole banana? What about if we cut one apple up; how many slices of apple weigh the same as one whole one?


Finally, snack time can offer a wonderful opportunity to introduce children to the idea of money and counting. Prepare by creating simple “snack tokens”. These might all be the same, or could be extended so that you have some “2 snack” tokens and some “1 snack” tokens. Encourage older children to exchange their tokens in return for the snacks of their choice. This may take some getting used to, but before long you should be able to prepare simple posters showing that a cup of milk costs 2 tokens, or a cup of water costs 1 etc. Not only does this approach support some great maths learning, but if approached carefully, it can help to promote healthy choices about which snacks to eat more of amongst the children.

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