Food in the Middle Grades Classroom
Should students be allowed to eat in class?
There doesn't seem to be an easy answer to that question; compelling arguments can be made on both sides, as was apparent in a recent MiddleTalk "conversation."
On one side are those folks who argue that hungry kids don't learn. Some students don't eat breakfast before they come to school, and school schedules are sometimes such that students have lunch at 10:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m., leaving long stretches of time between nourishment for those growing bodies and minds.
Research has shown that hunger can hinder cognitive development. It also can increase behavior problems, causing students to be aggressive, impatient, or agitated.
On the other side are those who contend that food is distracting, messy, and can cause allergic reactions.
Is there a happy medium? Can we ensure our kids are well-fed, attentive, yet safe from life-threatening allergic reactions? Possibly.
First, check your school and district policy. Some districts forbid food in the classroom, typically because of the allergy issue. Second, be aware of students' IEPs. Some students are motivated by food and food-as-reward may be part of their IEP. That doesn't mean you must permit food in the classroom, but it's something to think about when making class rules.
Then consider doing the following:
1. Discuss the issue with colleagues on your team and school-wide. Not every teacher needs to have the same policy, but for consistency's sake, consider establishing team guidelines.
2. Know which students in your class have food allergies and maintain a list of foods they cannot have or be exposed to. Prohibit those foods in the classroom. Some teachers require that all foods brought into the classroom remain wrapped in their original packaging so the teacher can check the ingredients.
Rather than assuming students will stay away from foods that might cause a reaction, consider this: Studies have shown that adolescents are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors when it comes to their food allergies because they don't want to feel or be perceived as different.
Connect students who have food allergies to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) teen website, Food Allergies in the Real World (www.faanteen.org). There, they will find essays and advice columns written by peers who have food allergies. (The content is reviewed and approved by a member of FAAN's Medical Advisory Board.)
3. Assert some control over what foods students can bring to class. For example, allow granola bars, fruit, graham crackers, and water (no sodas or candy).
4. To address the issue of disruptions, allow eating during specific times during the class period—during the first five minutes of class or during the last five minutes of class, for example. One MiddleTalk participant shared that her entire school takes a four-minute break every day at 10 a.m. to allow students to eat a snack.
5. Food attracts pests, so hold students responsible for cleaning up after themselves. If they don't follow through, take their food privilege away. If you keep food in your classroom for any reason, ensure it's in well-sealed containers to ward off pests.
Food in the classroom? The best decision is the one that keeps the well-being of the students in your classroom at its core.
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