Café Culture and the not so humble snack…

abc doesChild Initiated Learning, Continuous Provision, Environment, Role Play, Talk12 Comments

Like with every area of your provision, it is worth asking the question 'what is snack for?' before you start to plan for it.

At it most basic level, snack is an opportunity for young children, who burn lots of energy in their play and exploration of your environment, to re-fuel. But, in truth there is SO much more that snack could and should be than that. At best it can offer some brilliant leaning opportunities. At worst it is a bag of apples and some cartons of milk dumped on a table.


Halton Lodge have a small but perfectly formed
snack area with a 'Have a go if you want to' waiting area with leveled
challenges in it

There are a
number of ways of running your snack sessions, from sit down and eat together
to free flow. There should be no hard and fast rule for what you should do when
as long as your snack sessions have purpose and are linked to learning as
opposed to being a glorified chimps tea party!


At the beginning
of your year, or with a new intake of children, you will be stopping and
starting your children regularly to re-enforce rules and routines and celebrate
individual achievements. 

During this
'settling' in period, a collective snack time can be brilliant for coaching the
children through what snack is all about. How you eat your snack, how to pour
your water and in some cases how to suck through a straw -trickier than you
think if you have never done it before!

It is also a time
for practitioners to remind children about rules and routines and celebrate

Another situation
where you might consider as 'stop and sit down' snack is to support your Key
Person role. Sharing food is a very social thing to do and meeting and eating
in small groups can really help to develop relationships as well as provide
fantastic opportunities for adults to tap into children's interests and then
use what they have found out to link into learning for high level engagement.


I worked with one
setting where the Key Adults had a picnic basket complete with blanket, plates
and cups. At snack time the children found a space either indoors or out and
set up their 'snack picnic'. 

In this
particular setting many of the children lacked a range of vocabulary and talk.
So, each week alongside the usual 'chat' we planned in a talk focus. So one
week it might have been talk for questioning, another talk for conflict
resolution. This didn't mean that this was all that was talked about, but it
gave adults a focus for their snack talk which they could also use in their
other interactions with children in  and around the setting.


Here at Hamstel Infant School they have made soup together and are now sharing it for snack.

Usually as time
goes on and the children get better at using the environment independently, you
will do far less stopping and starting as you want to facilitate opportunities
for deep level learning, exploration and discovery.

This is when a
self service snack comes into its own. Sometimes practitioners are a bit wary
of giving children responsibility for their own snack. Someone did once ask me
what I would do if I child took two milks instead of one! I don' t think my
answer of 'Call the milk police and have them arrested' went down too well!

There is really
no need to be wary though. With some good organisation and high expectations
very young children can be very self-sufficient.

Here are children
at Noah's Ark pack away pre-school self-managing their own snack – yes, that is
a toaster in the background on the table and no there is no adult (in a tabard) standing watch.


and they do the
washing up…


This is a similar
idea in St Andrew's C of E Primary. These children are mixed Nursery and
Reception and they completely self manage their 'Seedlings Café'. The school is
in an are of high social deprivation so the café serves breakfast at the
beginning of the day. 



Once the
breakfast rush is over the cereal and toast are replaced with milk, water and



There are 2
waiters aprons which the children take turns to wear. They manage the length of
time that they are a waiter by using a timer.

The children were
surprisingly good at sticking to their time without adult intervention, but
there were one or two serial offenders who would have kept their apron on all
day, but staff were aware of who these children were and kept an eye out for



Snack like this
is brilliant for supporting independence and interaction but as there is no
adult 'manning' the space it can also become a haven for 'avoiders' who will
happy sit and spend half an hour chewing on an apple.

Alongside the
independence element of the snack area, you also want to introduce other
learning opportunities. This can be as simple as having a photograph or object
on the table for the children to look at and talk about. 


For any
Continuous Provision to be effective, adults need to be mobile within the learning
space. You should be taking learning to children rather than pulling children
to you. If you set up an activity at a table in one area of your setting and
then call children to you it becomes impossible for you to then ensure that
what is going on in your Continuous Provision is really taking children's
learning forward and not just low level holding tasks.

So, as an adult
is moving through the learning space they are able to drop into snack, re-set
any of the resources that need resetting, check for loiterers and engage in a
bit of quality talk.

This is snack
time at St Augustine’s 'Primadona Café'. The waiters are also on a timer and
their job is to write down the name of the diner and their preferred snack
option before serving it to them.


Whilst waiting,
the snackers had some great pictures to look at that promoted a lot of talk.


If you are trying
to encourage children to talk then you need to give them something that they
are going to want to talk about. Humor and terror (within reason) often work well
as does showing them photos of past events, getting them to remember, recall, sequence and articulate their memories.


the shark creeping up on the boy (if sharks can creep?) was a particular favourite!


There will also
be times when you work in the snack area alongside the children to help them to
prepare what they are going to eat and then join them in eating it!


nursery children learning to cook and cut with a sharp knife



rocking that pinny Mr. Clegg!

Although I am a fan of
keeping most other areas of your provision as ambiguous and open ended as
possible snack is one area that you can really go to town on 'dressing'. This not only gives your environment impact but also offers up some great opportunities to re-enforce other areas of learning like roleplay, mathematics, understanding of the world, mark making -the list is endless!

it be a cafe, ice cream parlour, tea shop, tree house or all American 1950's diner,
just make sure it has purpose and impact as well as good food and quality talk!


12 Comments on “Café Culture and the not so humble snack…”

  1. Only yesterday I spoke to my head about investing in a ‘self-service toaster’ for my Reception Class…so happy to have come across this brilliant post.Thank you Alastair!

  2. This has to be THE blog post of the year so far for me. I just loved every word and will keep an eye out for the milk police up here! After all you never know where they may be lurking (probably hanging out at a doughnut shop with the fashion police, but who can tell…)
    Funnily enough I was musing over an outdoor snack post and I have to say you’ve now set a very high bar!

  3. Hannah google pictures for writing prompts there is a link for a pinterest board that has some brilliant pictures on.

  4. When planning your snack area we have found that having a round table promotes conversation and it is essential that you position the area in a quiet area of your room. If possible zone the area off so the children can concentrate and are not distracted by others just passing by – Good Luck.
    Helen at Noah’s Ark. X

  5. Hi Hannah
    Not sure where they got them from. Another idea that always gets a good reaction is photos of you and your team – preferably in fancy dress – or at least a daft hat! Never fails to make children (and staff) giggle!

  6. Hello,
    We have free-flow snack in our reception class where the children are very independent, but after readin this I feel I am missing som elearning opportuntites. I have just been out and bought a large photo frame but am now having difficulty finding some of those humourous and terrifying pics. My boys would love it and will talk about it for days. Can I ask if you know how I could find them? I have tried googling anf got a couple I can use, but wondered if you know where the teachers in this blog got there? Thanks 🙂

  7. Inspired. First change to my setting will be a photograph album and a framed wow picture which can continually change,

  8. A very interesting post especially at a time when i am reflecting upon our snack area withon the nursery. I have always felt snack time provides such an excellant opportunity for talk and developing on the children’s self help skills. I look forward to introducing the ‘talk focus’.

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