If you are not an ECE or have never worked with a group of young children, then you might be surprised to hear there are many ways of handling snack time at preschool.
Open Snack On one end of the spectrum, we have the idea that snacks are available whenever the child is hungry and that we just let the child eat whenever the whim strikes.
Scheduled Snack On the other end of the spectrum, snacks are scheduled and everyone sits down together, hungry or not.
Believing there is not one right way to do things, I have incorporated both ideas into my preschool programs.
At our outdoor preschool, I allow snacks any time. The children really do love this freedom. They love being in charge, being the ones who decide when to eat and what they want. And sometimes, they don’t eat anything at all and I do not comment. It is a two hour program so it is quite possible that they won’t want to eat at all during those two hours and that’s fine with me. Their parents know that it is an open snack and so they may or may not have eaten. The tricky part with the open snack is that with a larger group of children, it is harder to keep track of which children have eaten and which haven’t and with those who suffer from low blood sugar or that “hangry” feeling (hungry and angry at the same time), it may not work so well.
At our morning program, snacks are scheduled. We all sit down and experience the group feeling of eating together. Something about sharing food and conversation is a great part of the human experience so I do like for all the children to participate in a scheduled snack for this reason. It unites us as a group, gives children a chance to see a variety of foods that they may not have seen before, and ensures that everyone gets a chance to stop and get a little food into hungry tummies. When the toys are ‘closed” during snack time, there are no distractions or reasons not to eat. Some children would eat rarely or never when toys are out all the time. I’ve also observed children who wolf down food quickly to get back to playing if they feel that the toys will be available immediately afterwards. The downside of this approach is that sometimes children are genuinely not hungry. In my mind, we want children to pay attention to hunger cues and eat when hungry but not feel forced to eat when not feeling hungry so I try to balance this by asking that all children come to the table but leaving the option open to just have a little water and chat with friends at the table.
What type of snack program would be best for your young child and why? Some preschools incorporate both ideas. Quite often there is a scheduled snack in the morning and an open snack in the afternoon. Others adhere strongly to one philosophy or another. What do you think works best?