For parents and teachers, mealtime is not always the most enjoyable time of the day. Whether it be a child not wanting to eat what you serve, not wanting to leave an activity to come to the table, or just not knowing what to cook, mealtime can be seen as a stressful time. I have seen some incredible early childhood programs use mealtime not only to provide healthy, balanced meals, but also to provide an opportunity for supporting social skills and self help skills. I have seen an increase in “Family Style Dining” in many of the programs I have worked with.
Family style dining provides opportunities for children to practice patience, turn taking, and using manners. The children are able to pass the bowls of food and serve themselves. What better way to use those fine motor skills than by trying to balance the proper amount of spaghetti on your spoon and carefully moving it to your plate? Using utensils is a great way to work on those pre-writing skills through the use of those small muscles in the hand. The children are learning to be autonomous and independent. Allowing children to serve themselves may be messy at first, but it is worth it when the children become more coordinated and feel the sense of pride that comes with being trusted with these tasks. Family style dining allows for great conversation between the child and caregiver, and any chance to engage verbally with the children is fabulous.
Many programs are also looking into healthier meal planning, and I have seen children really learning to love healthy foods. This can also be a great parent engagement piece, educating families on health and nutrition. It is becoming rare to hear of families eating together at the table, and as child care providers we can lead by example and show the benefits of taking the time to enjoy meals together as a family. There are wonderful programs for parents and teachers, such as My Plate, USDA Team Nutrition, and Let’s Move! Child Care. You can also download the free Family Style Dining Guide to get started on building healthy habits around eating in your program today. Bon Appetit!
I have to say that fall is one of my favorite times of year. I enjoy the hustle and bustle of children headed back to school and participating in autumn-themed activities. I like the cooler temperatures and the changing leaves. There are smells and foods associated with fall and the changing seasons that just make me smile from the inside out. I truly welcome this change every year.
In addition to all of the typical changes associated with fall, there are also changes throughout the state of Ohio with Step Up To Quality. The set up of the program standards document is different. The terminology related to the rating system has changed. The organizational systems used by many programs for years seems like it’s changing too. In Kentucky, there have been updates to licensing regulations as well. These changes seem to be causing confusion. No one seems to be smiling about these changes in the same way that a child might smile when they jump into a pile of crunchy leaves in the fall.
I want to encourage you to recognize that just like the physical changes that happen every fall, this type of change is good too. Even though we have to learn a new set of words and maybe even create some new systems to organize our paperwork, it’s all in the best interests of the children. My hope is that as you take time to learn the different pieces associated with Step Up To Quality in Ohio and licensing regulations in Kentucky, you also take time to breathe and enjoy the good work that you are doing for the best interests of the children in your care.
When you face a challenge because of some of the changes that you see before you, please know that there are supports all around you. At 4C for Children we have leadership networks and coaches who are able to answer questions and provide supports through these changes. You can also reach out for support from friends and colleagues who are traveling this changing path with you. Accept the new systems and know that children will benefit. Most importantly, keep in mind the reason behind your work: the wonder in a child’s eyes as you teach him about what happens when summer turns into fall, and the smile on his face as he jumps into a pile of leaves and embraces the changing of seasons.