school

Schools are changing lunchtime. Literally changing it.

There is a new trend in Australian primary schools that could change how we think of lunchtime for generations.

Clever principals are moving lunchtime before noon for a variety of good reasons.

This year, principal Dr Neil Lavitt did just that after neighbouring Sydney schools had success with an earlier lunch break.

Students eat lunch inside at St Peters Public. Image via iStock.

He decided to change St Peters Public School's lunch break to just after 11am with a recess in the afternoon.

The kids get to play for 40 minutes as soon as the bell rings and then they eat inside 40 minutes later.

"We have a very large oval and we were trying to explore ways to increase the amount of time we were spending there," Dr Lavitt told Mamamia.

I ate my lunch at recess. Image supplied.
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Last year, students from Kindergarten to Grade 6 at St Peter's had lunch at 1:10pm until 2pm - the conventional way that schools tend to organise their day.

"The idea for changing it came from a number of places...we were trying to address a number of areas we were concerned about," said Dr Lavitt.

Parents and teachers had noticed many kids were eating their lunch at recess - but that wasn't the only reason.

"We were concerned about sun safety. Particularly that 1.10pm until 2 o’clock was actually quite hot and almost the hottest part of the day – a time when kids would be running around," he added.

Listen: Why move school lunchtimes?

The school already tries to minimise sun risk with sunscreen and hats but the lunch break shift minimises exposure in the worst part of the day.

"We benefited from that in the very beginning.  We had one day when we managed to get out because it was only 33 degrees but by 1 o’clock it was near 40 and we wouldn’t have been able to go out – it would have been an indoor lunch," he said.

Parents had also voiced concerns about eating food during the later lunch period.

"The food had been sitting in bags and was sometimes warm or the food had been taken out for recess...Parents were concerned about healthy eating and their children’s food not being kept cool," he said.

Lunch in the middle of the day isn't a great idea. Image via iStock.
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Now, the school has a cleaner playground because eating is done inside.

"The kids enjoy the fact they have a much extended period of play because often eating would drag on and the kids wouldn’t play until most people had finished eating. So that play period would shorten," said Dr Lavitt.

"I think they also appreciate eating their lunch in a more healthy environment. We don’t have the same litter issues as well. We used to have a lot of litter that came into the playground that came from the lunchboxes and that doesn’t happen anymore.

Although St Peters have never had a big problem with behaviour the early lunch can also help with behaviour.

"I am aware of a lot of schools that have found by having their lunch first and by having it earlier in the day it can often reduce behaviour issues because as children become more tired – that’s when niggly issues crop up and when behaviour issues start to kick in."

Moving lunch hasn't changed the amount of learning time but it has increased students' free play.

"Play is a very important part of school," says the principal.

"It’s one of the parts of the day when social competence is developed. We call it the hidden curriculum.

Photo gallery: Celebrities at school. (Post continues below).

"The ability to play actively with others and that physical activity has advantages but there’s also advantages of developing skills by relating and playing games with others, whether it be sit down card games or chess, talking about books or playing games of footy – it is an extremely important part of the day.

"It makes sense to make it as interesting and creative for them as possible."

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