The Kid Whisperer: How to create a more functional lunchroom

Scott Ervin, Tribune News Service on

Published in Lifestyles

Dear Kid Whisperer,

My question is about lunch. I am an elementary school principal. I used to enjoy being at lunch, but I no longer do. I feel like I used to be able to wander around the lunchroom and talk to kids and help them open up packaging and help them to clean up messes. I was happy to warm up prepackaged meals that required microwaving. Now, I find myself sprinting around the lunchroom opening everything and cleaning up everything. Can I do anything to improve my lunchroom?

— Lauren, Parma, Ohio


As someone who has been working in school lunchrooms for nearly a quarter-century and who now has the odd job of making lunchrooms across the country functional, I can tell you that your experience is, sadly, very common.

If parents in this country knew how out of control most lunchrooms are, they would be demanding change.


Schools would be unable to provide sufficient changes to create functional lunchrooms because, to be optimally effective in working with students, adults working in lunchrooms must be given functional procedures and must have been explicitly trained in the strategies necessary to create positive, prosocial environments for lunchrooms.

While I can’t list all the procedures and strategies here, I can outline some pieces that will help greatly and show a bit of how to use some of this effective planning:

— Send a letter home to all parents letting them know that no adult will help any kid open anything for any reason, so they should not send anything that could not be opened by a kid, preferably by their own kid. Train your students to be able to be self-sufficient in the way that is described below.

— This procedure is not developmentally appropriate for kindergartners or pre-kindergartners. For this reason, the first 10 minutes of every kindergarten or pre-K lunch should be “staffed” by students from older grades who can help open younger students’ items after the questioning, shown below, is done by these student helpers.


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