Skip to main content
Global keyword search

Use of snack time to develop children’s skills and understanding

Staff make effective use of open-ended questions, balanced with comments, to support thinking and use modelling to support and extend concepts and vocabulary developments.

 teacher with group of children on a lunch break at preschool

Information about the setting

Rachael’s Playhouse Aberdare is a full day care service offering care and education to children aged between 18 months and 5 years old. The setting is bilingual. It is a registered Flying Start setting and a non-maintained education provider. The setting is child focused and offers continuous free flow that enables children to always access their preferred learning environment. Rachael’s Playhouse places the well-being of children and staff at the center of its practice. 

Hannah and Rachael, the responsible individuals, started their childcare venture as childminders working from Rachael’s house. Both then went on to complete a degree in Early childcare and Education. They have emphasised the knowledge and understanding they gained from the qualification and how this has influenced their practice. Following the completion of the degree, an opportunity arose to expand the business. Hannah and Rachael opened their first nursery in Aberdare in June 2018. The leaders had a shared passion of children receiving the highest quality care and education, to ensure that strong foundations are laid that inspire future learning and continued development. A shared vision was soon clearly established, one that is fluid and continues to develop in response to recent research and education.  

Context and background to the effective or innovative practice

The setting has created an approach that includes elements from different pedagogies, theorists and international perspectives. The approach ensures that children have access to real life resources and experiences, risky play and loose parts. Independence is strongly promoted and staff have high but realistic expectations of the children. Rachael’s Playhouse values every opportunity as a learning opportunity. The children are encouraged to conduct their own ‘risk assessments’ and think critically when problems arise. Any resources that may pose a higher risk to the children are introduced gradually. Staff place great importance on building strong relationship with the children and have a deep understanding of the level of support that is needed for each child. For example, the setting uses real china and glass during snack time, and if this falls on the floor and breaks, it gives staff the opportunity to talk to the children about what happened and why. Questions such as “does anyone know why this plate smashed?” “do you know what material the plate is made from?” “can anyone demonstrate how to carry the plate safely and correctly?” promote critical thinking and problem solving and help to develop a child’s self-esteem as they become confident and competent learners.  

Although the setting promoted a wide range of opportunities for children to develop their skills and knowledge throughout the day, it was clear that these opportunities were being missed during snack and dinner time. The setting wanted a snack time that was a social experience, where the children learn new skills and reflect upon their day. However, snack and dinner time were very busy periods and could be quite chaotic. Identifying the need to change, the team at Aberdare observed snack time for a few days to try and establish what was going on and why snack time was busier and noisier than other parts of the day. From observations and discussions, the staff were able to reflect on the current practice. It was clear that not all children were developmentally ready to sit down for a couple of minutes for snack, which resulted in them running around, and most children following and copying. This all resulted in a hectic snack time, one in which practitioners were not able to use effective communication strategies as they were too busy trying to encourage all children to sit down.   

The children are now split into different groups, and rolling snack is offered to both groups. No more than six children sit at the table for snack at any one time. This allows staff to ensure that snack time is an unrushed, social experience, where children are given opportunities to draw upon their current knowledge and skills and enhance these each time. 

Description of nature of strategy or activity

Before snack time begins or any food or drinks handed out, staff ask the children about allergies. The children with allergies, intolerances or food preferences have their photos displayed near the snack area with information in red on foods they must avoid and in green for alternatives that can be offered. The staff ask children if anyone at the table have any allergies; they ask the child with allergies what could happen if there was any cross contamination and what alternatives they could have instead. The staff then ask all children what procedures we must follow to keep their friends with allergies safe. During snack, children have the opportunity to peel, chop, spread and pour independently. They are given real peelers and sharp knives to be able to do this. Before the tools are handed out, the children are asked about risks and what procedures they need to follow to keep themselves safe. Due to strong relationships being established, staff are competent in knowing the level of support each child needs during snack time. Some require one-to-one support, and some children are completely independent. Constructive praise is offered throughout, such as “thank you for your patience in waiting for a seat to become available”, “you are showing very good perseverance skills there” and “you chopped that apple independently, well done!”.   

Curiosity is strongly promoted during snack, every morning and afternoon there is an unusual food that is offered for the children to ask questions about and make predictions about what they think could be inside the fruit or vegetable when it is cut open. An example of this is a pomegranate. Children discuss the colour the fruit on the outside, and ponder about whether the colour of the fruit is different on the inside. They predict what could be inside the fruit and take guesses as to where the fruit grows and give reasons for their answers. The learning can also then be extended. For example, the next day, if they find seeds inside a fruit, they may talk about planting it and make predictions on what will happen if they do plant the seeds. This could lead on to the children being asked what seeds or plants need to grow healthily. During the snack time, children and staff get the opportunity to reflect on their day. They might talk about what they have enjoyed that morning and highlight anything they may not have enjoyed. This information could be used to inform planning for the afternoon or the next day.  

Towards the end of the snack, the staff member highlights any litter that is there and asks the children about the litter or food waste. Each snack time is different, and the staff member leading snack will follow the children’s lead. For example, on one occasion the staff member asked the children why it is important to recycle plastic. The children answered about it polluting the planet and getting into our oceans. To end the snack experience, the children independently scrape their waste into the food waste bin and place their dirty plates and cups on the trolly. They then go to the bathroom to wash their hands and faces so that they are clean for the afternoon. During snack, staff members sit to eat the same food provided with the children. 

What impact has this work had on provision and children’s standards?

The snack time has been an influential factor in most children at the setting being ethically informed from a young age. The children are confident in their answers when they are talking about helping plants grow and recycling. Extensive vocabulary is used every time by the children as this is the language they are being consistently exposed to. Language skills have improved amongst most children. This has been identified in assessments, and more extensive vocabulary is being used by some children. The children show a deep understanding of what the vocabulary means. For example, they talk about cross contamination and what this means. They discuss that plastic is non-biodegradable and what this means, and they understand the procedures to follow to keep themselves and others safe. Snack time is now a more enjoyable experience, where children are eager to sit down and take part. Children and staff well-being has improved during snack and lunch time. It creates a sense of belonging as children can openly discuss matters that affect them, and talk about their family members and what they do at home. It’s become a time to establish relationships further between children and staff. Adults perceive children as capable learners, modelling good communication skills including engaging in sustained shared thinking (SST) and effective use of open-ended questions to support thinking. Staff make effective use of open-ended questions, balanced with comments, to support thinking and use modelling to support and extend concepts and vocabulary developments. The children’s independence skills have improved, which is evident through observations and assessments.  

How have you shared your good practice?

The practice has been shared by some settings visiting Rachael’s Playhouse.