How to Teach Lunchroom Procedures for the Beginning of Kindergarten

Let’s not beat around the bush and pretend that there aren’t a million little things we need to teach at the beginning of kindergarten. Because… there are.

But, we also don’t have to be overwhelmed by figuring out how to teach every single one of those things in an over-the-top way that keeps the attention of our brand-new kinders.

Let me share with you why and how I simply taught procedures for the lunchroom to my kinders on the first few days of school and give you a free copy of what I used.

Do you have to teach this to your students?

Okay, now before we dig into how I taught them – let me first say that I didn’t have to teach them how. They would’ve totally gotten to go eat lunch those first few days without me teaching them what lunchtime looks like.

However, they would literally have just been sent to the cafeteria with no clue what to do, how to do it and there’s a LOT of distractions during the entire lunch break. Let’s be real.

And with the number of staff that monitor the lunch room there literally aren’t enough hands to herd my awesome little cats (along with the five other classes), help kids open packages, and make sure that everyone gets outside for at least some recess those first few days.

So, I simply decided to make it important – and work smart. Let me explain.

Why I teach this to my kiddos

I decided that if I helped prepare my kiddos for the lunchroom, then my kids would have a better first day experience overall, they would eat lunch better because they’d have more time to actually eat it and potentially get more recess time.

All of those things mean we have a better afternoon!

I also figured out that I could use that teaching procedures time to my advantage. Since we literally work in 15-minute increments on the first day of school, changing activities so frequently can be rough for even an experienced teacher.

So – the plan? Break up your morning by doing a run-through of what lunch looks like.

That means we’re:

  • Helping them know what to expect (the basic routine and schedule)
  • Giving them a snack (which keeps them happier until lunchtime and less likely to repeatedly ask when is lunch)
  • Getting in an extra recess (burn off energy, explore playground equipment more safely with less kiddos on the grounds)
  • Learning where the bathroom is during lunchtime use
  • Learning when, where, and how to line up coming in from recess

If you think of it – you’re practicing what lunch looks like in a smaller, less distracted setting and now when real lunchtime rolls around, your kiddos are much more comfortable with what to do.

This may or may not be feasible in your building to be able to practice going to lunch before lunch actually rolls around. But, more likely than not, with a simple conversation with your lunch aides and lunch staff you may just be surprised at how willing they are to support you in making it happen – because it also makes their day go more smoothly too.

Lunch staff just may be able to help you out because it makes their day go smoother too

How I teach lunch routines to my kindergartners

Let’s jump into how I do this.

If the plan is going to the lunchroom, doing a practice run-through complete with snack and a little extra recess then what do we need to do before leaving the classroom and going to the cafeteria?

Start in the classroom

Start teaching them how to do lunch while you’re in the classroom. This is *roughly* a 10-15 minute lesson.

Teach them what lunch looks like with either a video (which you and a buddy teacher could make) or a social story.

If you’re a reader of mine then you know that I use social stories the first few days of school to teach things like how to use the classroom restroom and how to get folders ready at the end of the day. This procedures book lets me walk the kiddos through what the process looks like and they can picture themselves doing it too.

So I made a “This is the Way We Go to Lunch” book featuring me (because I’m really one of the only school staff they know) and I walk them through each of the lunch-routine steps with a little bit of humor and a song.

This works so well because you’re reading a story – which is a very comfortable type-of activity for the first day of school. And secondly, it’s to the tune of a familiar nursery rhyme (Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush) so students stay engaged because I’m sing-reading. They eventually can chime in on the “…when we go to lunch!” part of the song.

Here’s the song written out as an example:

“Here we go round the mulberry bush” is “How do we get our tray?”

“The mulberry bush, the mulberry bush” is “Pay attention, use our manners.”

“Here we go round the mulberry bush so early in the morning” is “This is the way we get our tray when we go to lunch.”

Some of the pages show me doing something wrong (like above – me not paying attention to the lunch lady trying to ask what I want), and others show me doing the right thing.

Each page offers me the chance to go into more detail about that part of the routine if needed.

Want to give it a try?

Here is my original, old-school copy of the book you can use as inspiration to make your own. [terms of use]

Just promise me you’ll ignore my photos because I never expected to share these on the internet someday!

And here is a free copy of an updated version in Canva so you can put in your own photos and change the words to fit your school’s routine. [terms of use]

Walk through the physical parts

After you’ve read the social story, and explained some of the pages in more depth to your students as you read then it’s time to do the run-through. This is probably a 5-minute mini-lesson.

You’ll want to talk about using the restroom before lunch (which is a big procedure in and of itself) and practice getting in line for lunch.

Take your class to the lunch room and help them with whatever part of the routine comes first.

For us, students would go to assigned seats, so we practiced finding those. I made poster-sized seating charts with large-print names for those first few weeks to put in the middle of the table and that really helped lunch aides with learning the kiddos names.

Then, turn on your dramatic flair for just a few minutes and model how to go through the lunch line, while they watch. Be sure to engage them as you move to the next thing, by doing something silly, like get your milk then say “I should sit down here for a while!” and plop right down by the milk refrigerator. They’ll all say, “No!” and then you say, “Oh, I should get my tray.”

Remember, you did all of the teaching back in the classroom using your social story book, so this is just reinforcing those main parts of the routine. Working smart {wink}

Let them try with a snack

After your quick modeling, it’s the kinders turn! This is most likely a 15-20 minute activity.

  • Call them up as they’d be called (by tables or however your school does it) to practice reaching in to get a milk (for fake) and putting it on their pretend tray that they are carrying.
  • Then let them get their little snack (we always did teddy grahams) from the food counter area and proceed to the cashier.
  • If your cashier is available, (and you worked it out beforehand) it’s a great time for her to say hi, and show them what she wants them to do, one at a time as they walk by. It’s so much easier at this point to give one-on-one directions rather than when the cafeteria is full.
  • They return to their seats and get to eat snack. Remind them of how they can get help opening items and what to do when finished while waiting for the next thing.
  • Find the good things that some of them did (waited patiently, kept tray balanced, remembered to put lunch card in the basket) and give specific praise or smelly spots to kiddos who followed through as they are snacking to reinforce your expectations.

By this point, you’ll be ready to reinforce throwing away their trash, where to put lunch boxes and getting out the door for recess – based on how it looks in your building. (Be sure to grab some wipes to quickly clean the tables so they are ready for the first lunch hour)

I’m not going to go further by breaking it down because some of you don’t even go to recess right after lunch, but you get the idea. But, if you do want to sneak in an extra recess, add those minutes into your first day plans too – with a few extra minutes for practicing how to line up.

Beyond the first day

Beyond the first day of school, we didn’t reteach this entire thing.

We would maybe read the book once more, the second or third day of school.

And I would offer a snack for just the first two days of school.

However, I totally kept a mid-morning recess for the first two weeks of school. It just made the full-day schedule go so much better with that extra break.

But if you want to go further with teaching lunch procedures then check out this with a lunchtime anchor chart and craft from another teacher. Just be sure to simplify the craft because I don’t really think in its entirety that it’s appropriate for first-day (or even first-week) kindergarten.

To recap

If you think that teaching lunch procedures could be to your – and your kinders – benefit, then I hope that showing you how I do it on the first day of school is helpful to you.

The basics of what I did was to:

  • Teach before you leave the classroom
  • Reinforce in the cafeteria with some light-hearted modeling
  • Let them practice

What do you think? Are you going to give this a try in your classroom?

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