Changing the world one lunch period at a time

Got another email from a frustrated (and furious) mom. Seems that in the first few days of kindergarten her son was already anxious and stressed. And, no, this time it didn’t have to do with academics and testing. It had to do with lunch.

Apparently this little boy (“Sam”) and his classmates have only 20 minutes for lunch (and 15 minutes for recess, down five minutes from the previous school year), which didn’t give him enough time to consume everything his parents packed for him. By day three Sam was enormously upset and pleading with his mother not to give him a whole sandwich, which takes too long to eat, or a juice pouch, which takes too long for him to open. (“NOOOO, Mom, I don’t have time to figure that out!”)

His mother tried to explain that she wanted to give him options and that he wasn’t required to eat everything. To which he replied, “MOM, you don’t understand; I won’t have time!” He said that even if was able to eat a whole sandwich he wouldn’t have time to eat anything else and that it would just be wasted – something he apparently couldn’t tolerate.

I ask you: should a five-year-old get less time to eat than the average adult worker? Should a five-year-old be experiencing such high levels of stress? If the intention is to increase cortisol levels in children and make them detest school right from the get-go, then this school gets an A+.

On Sam’s first day of kindergarten, he was confronted with the ugly truth that school isn’t necessarily a friendly place. As he reported to his mom, “I opened my lunch and I just got started and you know what the lady did? She just shut my lunch box and said ‘zip it up.’ I just got started!”

Perhaps it’s too much to ask that everyone understand child development. Perhaps it’s even too much to ask that everybody working with kids understand it. But is it too much to ask that everyone working with them show them some respect? Maybe even a little kindness or empathy?

Did the people who decided to schedule 20-minute lunch periods for small children take the children into consideration at all?

Sam’s mom, who is an early childhood professional, shared her concern (and rage) with her co-teacher. Her colleague’s response was that she should become a kindergarten teacher in order to know how it really is on the front lines.

I’m sorry, but I don’t consider that an acceptable response. I can’t even imagine how teachers who do care about and understand children are remaining in developmentally inappropriate classrooms these days. But determining that “that’s just the way it is now” is not okay. We often talk about preventing learned helplessness in children. So why would we accept it in ourselves?

Shrugging our shoulders and sighing is not the way to create change. And something most definitely has to change if we’re going to save children from the kind of stress Sam is experiencing – and if we’re going to help make our children’s education what it was meant to be.

I do realize that not everyone is cut out to be a member of the “resistance movement.” But creating change doesn’t necessarily involve starting a strike, spouting off at a school board meeting, or storming into an administrator’s office demanding to be heard (although if you’d like to do any of those things, more power to you!). Sometimes change can be created in more subtle ways.

How about inviting administrators and/or policymakers to have lunch with the kids? This can simply be a lovely invitation issued; they don’t have to know the reason behind it! How about writing a letter to the newspaper editor, or using social media, even anonymously, to get a discussion started? Or perhaps gathering some research together and, anonymously or not, making sure the powers that be have the opportunity to see it? (Click here for information about a study showing that short school lunch periods are unhealthy.) Each of us, in her or his own way, can make a difference.

And, remember: you don’t have to go it alone. Find likeminded individuals to join you in your cause. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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