Author: Kurstin Koch
Published: Wednesday, January 4 2012
I had no idea how much fun being a “lunch lady” would be. Ever since I graduated high school, I have been attempting to avoid public schools like the plague. But for my Production and Food Service Management rotations, I was working with a school district near St. Louis, and realized just what a job in school food service has to offer.
Though the majority of my time was split between working in the production area and then returning to the office to write up action plans, memos or plan an in-service, I did spend a day or two working the serving line. In those few brief days, I noticed a phenomenon I had never considered before. The elementary school students were just amazed by the presence of a new person in their cafeteria. Almost every student noticed me, and said “Hi”, and a few asked why I was there. They remembered me from the day before, when I interviewed them about food preferences, and were hoping I was there to do that again. Several asked if I was the new lunch lady. Not to mention, the constant “You’re pretty!” comments weren’t bad for my self-esteem! Then, a couple days later, I went to the high-school. And literally NO ONE noticed. I wasn’t even serving the food. I was observing the server and counting the number that the recipe produced. Not even one high school student appeared to notice a strange lady was just standing there watching them. I could have just as easily been a new broom propped against the wall.
What does this say about kids, and what does it mean for me? Well, it’s an important reminder of developmental psychology. Little kids loved me and wanted to talk about anything and everything. The older kids fell into the typical adolescent description: focused on themselves and their world. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. We all go through it. So how can we use this in nutrition?
During orientation for this internship, we learned about the stages of development in kids and what types of education strategies are appropriate for each age group when we go out to do our nutrition education in the schools. Of course, I don’t remember any of that because those three weeks were all a blur—a seemingly never-ending stretch of projects and speakers. It was like one very long day as I was getting used to my new city, new apartment, and new phase of life. But I guess something stuck, because in the schools I have seen these things come to life.
I say all of this to point out that how we set up nutrition education really should vary depending on the age-group of the audience, especially trying to reach out to high-schoolers who barely notice you are there. How can you make them care about what you are trying to teach? And with the little ones, how do you keep them focused long enough to get it? In younger children, abstract thinking is not yet developed, and they often do not yet link actions with consequences. Simple rules and ideas are most appropriate, and learning activities should incorporate motor and sensory play to combat the shorter attention spans. Fun games to drive home one or two basic points of nutrition would be more effective than a long lecture. This begins to change as the children grow, particularly by age twelve. Teenagers have well developed language and reasoning, and often use this for arguing. They want to think and make decisions for themselves. They often view themselves as the focus of attention—this can actually be used to encourage them to be role models for others. Involving teens in planning menus or making nutrition posters for their schools can make them feel influential.
All of these things are almost as important, if not more so, than the lesson itself. So I guess I’m going to have to dig out those notes from orientation after all.