Why kids need interval and lunch
By Bronwyn Mandile |
Why kids need lunch
One of the new mums at our school was questioning the sense of having both a recess and a lunch break during the school day. “There’s too much useless play time,” she exclaimed.  “Shouldn’t they skip recess and serve lunch at midday and then they can just get on with classwork?” 
This woman has clearly never faced a long afternoon teaching 25 five year olds how to read (neither have I, but I can imagine the horror). Teachers need a recess and a lunch break, no doubt about it. But, possibly even more importantly, kids need both breaks as well.
The time allocated to recess and lunch, and the times during the school day that they take place, vary from school to school but recess is generally the first time in the day that a child is ‘let loose’ from the classroom environment.

Morning tea

By recess, kids are positively starving and spend a good proportion of the break hoovering most of what’s in their lunch box. It takes a lot of time to eat when you’re a kid.  This is why packing foods that kids can ‘eat on the go’ is so important. A huge uncut sandwich is not going to get eaten and a large, unpeeled orange will most likely be passed up too. Cutting foods up into small portions allows kids to grab and stay on the move.

The real break

Lunch and recess breaks are definitely times to encourage kids to eat on the hop. Quite apart from being a pit-stop for refueling, school breaks gives kids an opportunity to race around madly letting off all the pent-up steam of the classroom. Recess and lunch are like the classroom’s pressure valves.
If kids were to sit down to eat their meal, chances are the bell would ring for class before they could even finish, allowing no time at all for a rousing game of hand ball, handstands or chaseys. This kind of physical activity is just as important for our child’s educational development as the food we pack in the lunch box and maybe even as important as the lessons taught in the classroom.
The bonuses of being physically active as much as possible when you’re a kid are numerous – among other benefits, activity promotes healthy growth and development, strong bones and muscles, improved cardiovascular fitness and a healthy weight. At school, physical activity can also help a child’s concentration levels, allowing them better focus on their school work and an improved ability to retain what they’ve been taught.

Hungry tummies create distracted minds

If you’ve ever helped in the classroom pre-lunch time, you’ll have witnessed for yourself how restless and inattentive the class can be at this time of the day.  Hungry tummies demand attention more than maths at this time of the day, but their restlessness is also due to being asked to concentrate in the classroom for longer than they’d like. Getting out and having a good ‘play’ allows them to stretch, jump, hop, skip and burn off some of that pent-up energy. When the bell rings for lunch, kids are like thoroughbred racehorses champing at the bit in the stalls. Ding, ding, ding and they're off and racing!
Unlike organised sport (which is, of course, highly beneficial for all kids), play time at school allows children to make up their own games and their own rules. They get to decide what will happen and establish the boundaries within which their game will take place. This kind of play time is highly social – there is no one to monitor their talk or interactions and it’s to children’s great, often overlooked, credit that 99% of the games they play are worked out empathetically and fairly between them. 
This kind of active play gives children the chance to bring to life their imaginations for a while and be the masters of their fate. That kind of freedom is a rare and respected gift – kids are almost always considerate play mates in the school playground, they seem to understand that play time is something very special indeed. 
In fact, the more autonomy we allow them to have in the playground, the more active and engaging their play becomes. Can you imagine letting your kids roam within your  neighbourhood with loads and loads of other kids and only a couple of parents ‘on duty’? Most parents couldn’t bring themselves to do it, but it’s amazing how well kids manage when we let them and giving them the independence to explore encourages them to be as physically active as they are curious.
But back to the classroom. Once the bell has sounded on the last break of the day, most classrooms move into a quieter mode. Kids have tuckered themselves out nicely during the lunch break and most are ready to settle into a lesson that exercises their creative mind. Physical activity definitely allows the mind to settle but it also gives it the courage to think outside the box. From creativity comes great innovation and invention – surely a critical part of any child’s education.
So, with all that eating and active playing, kids definitely need their morning tea AND their lunch. So I’ll be encouraging the new mum at our school to do a few pre-break and post-break classroom helping sessions, so she can see for herself just how important those two school breaks really are. Hopefully she’ll never look at ‘play time’ as being ‘useless’ time again!
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