I mentioned that we work on communication intensively during snack time. During lunch, we work on other things, mainly ADL (activities of daily living) and social skills.
I am very lucky in that my classroom has a fully equipped kitchen and a 12-seat dining room table. We eat lunch in the class kitchen Monday through Thursday. On Friday, we eat in the cafeteria.
To avoid another super-long post, I'm going to explain why in this post and then go into more detail about what we do during lunch in the next post.
Why do we eat in the classroom?
- My students are learning how to participate in every-day activities both at home and in the community. While functioning in the school environment is important, my main focus is on home and community - because that's where "real life" happens after they finish school. Now, at home and in the community, outside of cafeteria-style restaurants (which aren't the norm), mealtime is not similar to the school cafeteria experience. In the classroom kitchen, we eat off of real plates, with real silverware. We drink from cups instead of milk cartons. We sit in chairs - with backs!
- My students have sensory processing difficulties - the cafeteria is LOUD!
- We work on table manners, using utensils, using a napkin, and communicating socially during lunch. In the cafeteria (not even considering the noise that would be distracting to this instruction) this would draw attention to my students -- no one else in there has an adult sitting right next to them reminding them to use their fork (though many of them need someone there lol).
- School is part of their "real life" for the next several years. It is important for them to have that cafeteria experience if possible (though, in my opinion, less important than learning table manners, social skills, etc)
- Friday at our school is always pizza day. All nine of my students love pizza and are therefore focused on eating and less likely to engage in inappropriate behaviors.
- Pizza is supposed to be eaten with your hands! So we don't have to worry about the students sticking out by not using their fork.
- On Friday, several teachers have their whole class or a group of students eat in the classrooms as a reward - this makes the lunchroom a bit quieter.
- Friday is also ice cream day - which gives me a built in reinforcer to encourage appropriate lunchroom behavior - our lunch table is right next to the ice cream cooler, so it's likely they will remember to "be good" to get ice cream (makes the delayed reinforcer less abstract).