Rethinking lunch time

This is what lunch looks like at most schools.

There might be 2, 3, or 4 different lunch periods. The bell rings. Kids can be seen frantically racing to the cafeteria. Students may be able to get their lunch right away. They may have to be dismissed by tables. Some students stand in line for minutes waiting to get their lunch. Many others take the time to demonstrate to you the negative aspects of school socialization. Occasionally, some students don’t get a chance to eat at all. School administration spends 60 to 90 minutes of their day supervising chaos. Kids are scarfing down food. The cafeteria is left a warzone for your custodians to hurriedly clean-up. Before you get to do it all over again . . . Does anyone actually enjoy this?

How different could the lunch period look by changing just one variable: the location of where students eat? What would school lunch look like if students ate in their classrooms with teachers? It turns out, most Montessori schools already do precisely that.

If students ate their lunches in the classroom, then . . .

A school could stagger lunch release times (to the cafeteria where students pick up their lunches) out over 90 minutes so that only 50 students or so are collecting their lunches at a given time (obviously, the exact number depends on school size). Students would get a more meaningful use of their lunch time (if you believe that a slower pace of eating is beneficial) and not waste it lollygagging. The potential for teachers to model behaviors, set social norms, and make academic observations during lunch is now possible. Administrators, whose time by definition should be the most precious, now have an additional 60-90 minutes in the day to coach teachers. And students are now given the responsibility of cleaning up after themselves and returning their classroom to a respectable condition.

Again, let’s restate the benefits. Kids get more time to eat (because less time is spent waiting to get lunch or “horsing” around). They get to eat in a quieter, less chaotic environment. School leadership is freed up to spend time on more important things. And students have just been empowered to be responsible for their environment.

What’s the downside? Well, we can think of a few concerns. Let’s address each.

Cleaning. Yes, the potential for dirty classrooms now exists. We argue: take the risk! If we can’t teach students self-responsibility, what’s the point in rushing them off to social studies? Is a student’s conceptual understanding of stewardship more important than the real thing? Next, another responsibility has been placed on the plate of teachers. Yes, this plan requires more of a time commitment from the faculty. The solution here is simple: just add the time back into a prep period. Or reorganize the school schedule to give back the time elsewhere.

We like solutions that require minor changes but that provide numerous benefits. Weigh the scales. And see if changing your school’s lunch routine makes sense for you.