Every Tuesday I have the privilege of enjoying lunch with our Kindergarten boys. I learn so much about them through this opportunity, and each child has his own particular preferences. (The palate of boys at this age is definitely still developing.) Our overarching goal for lunch is to fuel the boys for their busy afternoons. To that end, the Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers do a wonderful job of previewing the foods that will be served. They ask each boy to “have a little of everything and a lot of something.” I chuckle when the teachers ask some boys if their sample bite was a “boy bite or a mouse bite.”
To help build their classroom community, the boys and teachers recite a short poem prior to beginning their lunch: “I love my bread, I love my butter, but most of all we love each other. Bon appétit, now we can eat.” Napkins are then placed in their laps, and their “tummies are pushed into the tables.” And then the conversations begin!
The boys in Grades 1-4 eat their lunch in the main dining hall at tables comprised of two boys from each grade, along with one adult. I am frequently amazed by the foods they enjoy. At times, I have sent emails to parents praising food choices and noting how their son models good manners, emulates diverse eating habits, and is friendly and inclusive to everyone at his table. If parents share with a classroom teacher or me that their son is having a hard time finding foods that he enjoys, we suggest that they come in to see our lovely salad bar so they, too, can suggest options for their son to sample and try.
Lunches at Fessenden promote connectedness, friendship, and conversation for both the boys and the adults. It provides a special time to focus on one another, learn from each other, and share as a group. At the lunch table, I am sometimes the initiator of discussions, though rarely the facilitator. I try to offer open-ended questions and conversation starters, such as, “Tell me about your weekend.” That sparks one boy to ponder and consider before answering me, and that one question can be enough to generate a full dialogue around the table that lasts the rest of the meal. As you can imagine, our conversations can touch upon anything: what we like to eat; jokes, riddles, and puns; stories involving family members; where we grew up; hockey teams we follow; school musicals; and dozens of subjects of interest to the boys. Each new month brings a change of seating arrangements, which allows the boys to make new friends and reconnect with their old ones.
As an educator and parent of two, I have a keen appreciation for family-style lunches—with the second family that Fessy is for all of us—and dinners with my wife and children. The Family Dinner Project
(FDP) is an organization that articulates and promotes the importance of families coming together during a meal. Anne Fishel, PhD, co-founder of the FDP writes, “Dinner is a time to relax, recharge, laugh, tell stories and catch up on the day’s ups and downs, while developing a sense of who we are as a family.” This is true for us at lunch in the Lower School. After a morning of hard work, we are ready for time with peers and friends as we enjoy healthy foods to nourish and energize us for the second half of our day.
The scientific benefits are clear. Dr. Fishel explains, “Sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members,” and benefits of doing so on a regular basis include both self-esteem and higher grades. Our dining hall is no different and can offer the same benefits in a larger setting during the day. Lunchtime conversations allow the boys to learn from one another, and these discussions expose them to new vocabulary words and the experiences, interests, and values of their peers.