Preschoolers can serve their own snack

Building independent doers and thinkers is one of the goals of early childhood education. Snack time is a terrific time to let children learn to do things all by themselves.

We always start off by washing our hands!

Setting the table

Have the children get into the practice of washing hands first and while they are washing hands, set out napkins and cups at one end of a table or on a low shelf. Have the children go and get their own napkin and cup then sit at the snack table.

These children have  had lots of practice standing in line and waiting for their turn to pick up a cup and napkin all by themselves.

“Open your napkin big and wide so I can put a (cracker) inside!”

Once the children sit at the table, they open their napkin big and wide and set their cup on the table.  In some classrooms, the children then wait for all of their friends to be seated. The teacher then uses the familiar finger play:

Open-Shut them

Open-Shut them

Open-Shut them and give a little clap!

Open-Shut them

Open-Shut them

Open-Shut them and lay them in your lap!

This gets all the children to quiet down and helps to start off snack at a moderately low noise level. This also allows the teacher to demonstrate any serving skills the children will need to know and to demonstrate talking with each other using a soft conversational tone rather then shouting to be heard.

Self – Serve Snack!

The teacher then sets the snack on the table with the appropriate serving utensils and allows the children to serve their own snack. The children then pass the serving dishes to their neighbor. These children have become extremely proficient in manipulating the various types of serving tools. It takes practice to do this well but it doesn’t take long before the students will amaze you with their abilities.

I can pour all by myself!

The children are also able to pour their own juice. The teachers fill a pitcher only a quarter of the way full so that the pitcher isn’t too heavy for the children to manage. As needed, the teachers refill the pitcher with more juice.  What you don’t see in the photo is the full pitcher of juice sitting on the counter that the teacher uses to refill the student pitchers.

Time to eat up!

Once the children have served themselves, they are allowed to go right on into eating their snack.

Teacher’s role model manners and conversational tone at the snack table!

The teachers then sit with the children to role model good manners at the table and to promote polite conversations between the children. The children are much more successful in having a positive snack time experience when the teachers join them rather then run around the classroom doing other things during snack time.

Once snack time is over, the children throw away their own trash and join the teacher on the carpet for a few minutes of after snack story time and singing.

Check out this fun little snack time song!

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  1. says

    I do allow my children to serve their own snack and they love it! The only thing I do differently is I usually try to have snack with them so I can also model healthy eating habits. My class also make their own beds for nap and put them away as well.

  2. says

    One of my favorite things to do at preschool is to sit with the children while they are eating – so much beautiful conversation goes on.

  3. Michelle Jones says

    Hey! I’m a toddler teacher whose children are from the ages of 20 months to 3 year old. I am wondering if this is appropriate for them because many of them do not have the fine motor development for grasping or pouring, the social/emotional development with adjusting to new situations or sharing and respecting the rights of others, while some of my toddlers language develpment is developing that they have difficulties with expressing their needs and wants and understanding the language from thier peers. So is this appropriate for them. I do allow them to serve themselves at mealtime by sitting bowls, and serving spoons for them to pass around to each other to serve themselves. I’m just concern about them standing in line waiting to get thier napkins and cups because it’s difficult for them to hold hands on a walk together.

    • says

      Hi Michelle,
      Take things in stages rather than going for the full experience all at one time but be consistent. Through a consistent approach, the children will build the skills they need to be more successful. I do think it is appropriate for all young children to be given opportunities to serve themselves but we want to help them be successful. In other words, we want to give them a smaller pitcher rather then one that is too heavy and we want to be patient with them when they make spills and offer up encouragement to try again. Above all, we need to teach the children how to do serve themselves. How can they hold the pitcher? How do they pour? and so on. It is through these types of experiences that children develop new skills. One doesn’t wait for children to have the skills before introducing new ideas – instead one presents opportunities that are challenging, yet age appropriate, to help them develop their skills.

      As far as the “line” for getting a napkin and cup goes: the children do this very quickly so they are not standing in a long line, they wash their hands – walk over and pick up a napkin and cup then sit at the table. It is very manageable for them. It may seem difficult to picture – but the more you organize your learning environment to help the children help themselves, the better they will get at do so. Also, remember that children are much happier when they are engaged and involved in the learning process rather than being spectators. In other words, as your children are able to do more for themselves, the will grow more confident and be more constructively busy rather then sitting around waiting on you! I do hope this is helpful information for you.


  4. says

    I think I will use this next year in my four year old class. I currently teach the three year olds, but next year will be teaching both classes. I love the idea of them helping themselves. My constant battle is my assistant in the three year old class so I think I will only use this with my fours! She has high expectations for my three year olds and over speaks me as the teacher. It is a constant battle that I am constantly trying to remedy. She truely means well, I just think she expects too much and is not relating well to the abilities of a three year old. Do you have an email address that I could send you questions regarding this? I feel bad posting negative comments, but I would appreciate any help on this matter. Thank you.

    • says

      Hi Amy,
      I will send you an email! For future reference – if you click on “About Deborah” there is a contact form at the bottom of the page where I can be reached as well:)

    • Chris says

      I have had similar issues and would love ideas in this regard. My issues are related to the assistant doing too much for the children. I have intervened several times. This would be a great topic to explore. Different philosophies in the classroom and the dynamics of the teacher/assistant/aide roles.

  5. says

    The one thing we’ve added to this in recent years is that the children are now learning the difference between actual trash, recyclables and compostables. They have to sort everything into the proper receptacle when they’re done eating.
    .-= Teacher Tom´s last blog ..Sad Room =-.