This guidance responds to the many questions the New York State Education Department’s (NYSED) Office of Early Learning (OEL) receives regarding whether or not mealtime can be included when calculating the instructional hours of prekindergarten programs for three- and four-year-old students.
Historically, the practice of OEL has been to define the length of the school day for prekindergarten programs in the same manner as Kindergarten - Grade 6, which excludes mealtime. As full-day prekindergarten programs (a minimum of 5 hours of instruction per day) have become more prevalent throughout the state, OEL has been asked to consider what are, if any, circumstances in which mealtime can be counted as part of a daily instructional schedule.
Mealtime in a prekindergarten classroom is an important part of a young child’s development and can include many learning experiences. These may include experiences with trying new food, encouraging self-help skills such as setting the table, and opportunities for social interactions. Mealtime can provide a natural environment for young learners to share in conversations that build language skills and develop relationships with peers and adults. If your program chooses to include mealtime as part of the instructional day, it should be a positive experience for each child and must include meaningful adult-child interactions and opportunities for learning.
Listed below are specific strategies to help districts determine whether their prekindergarten mealtimes qualify to be included as part of the instructional day. It is the expectation of OEL that these strategies be closely adhered to when choosing to define meals as instructional time. Therefore, the below examples should be either followed as described or have a comparable level of adult-child interaction, consideration, and learning elements that are met during the entire mealtime, including set-up and cleanup.
Mealtime that can be counted as instructional time should include, but not be limited to:
- Teachers and paraprofessionals participating in mealtime by:
- Maintaining required staff to student ratios and qualifications;
- Being seated among the children at the meal tables; and
- Participating, facilitating, and guiding meaningful extended conversations; modeling appropriate mealtime behavior with supportive guidance; and facilitating problem solving and turn taking.
- Mealtime setting should allow for:
- reciprocal conversations between adult/child as well as child/child in guided topics that are of interest to and relevant to children;
- comfortable and relaxing conversations that facilitate literacy development by encouraging new vocabulary; and
- accommodations for learning opportunities for students who finish mealtime before their peers (e.g., engaging in conversations, additional activities appropriate for mealtime setting, etc.).
- Daily mealtime instructional planning should give thoughtful consideration to the five domains of the New York State Prekindergarten Learning Standards: A Resource for School Success:
- Approaches to Learning (e.g., gaining independence, problem solving, asking questions, making connections to prior knowledge);
- Physical Development and Health (e.g., handwashing; healthy eating habits, setting a table, pouring liquids);
- Social and Emotional Learning (e.g., mealtime manners: please, thank you, you’re welcome, excuse me; utensil usage, sitting at a table to eat, chewing with mouth closed, enjoying mealtime routines);
- Communication, Language, and Literacy (e.g., engaging in reciprocal conversations, listening while others are talking, naming and discussing foods; discussing likes and dislikes); and
- Cognition and Knowledge of the World (e.g., discussions about customs, foods, and family traditions, distinguishing left from right, applying one-to one correspondence, using positions words, discussing properties of food such as shape, size, and texture.).
Please be advised that when staff from NYSED’s Office of Early Learning conduct on-site monitoring visits, they will be looking carefully to see that these strategies are utilized in order to justify that classroom mealtime be included as part of daily instructional time. If you have any questions, contact the Office of Early Learning at (518) 474-5807, or by email at OEL@nysed.gov.