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Best Practice: Intentional Snacking

Environment

In my years working with children prior to being a full-time outdoor teacher, I knew that students’ nutrition factored greatly into their ability to focus in class. However, never did I see the immedi-ate effect a snack can have on a group of students until I began teaching in the outdoors. A sim-ple bag of pretzels can mean the difference between sobbing children and a victorious hike; a handful of carrots can dictate whether or not students feel the urge to fling themselves willy-nillly down a hill filled with Stinging Nettle. With great snack, comes great power. The four following understandings will help anyone rock the power of the snack to support student success.

Note: Not all outdoor programs will have the same snack options. Make the most of what you have; these ideas are meant as guidelines to be considered, but not as strict rules!

1. Snack timing can make or break a lesson. A couple of do’s and don’ts on this one. Don’t give students snack when you also expect them to do something else with their hands (like writing, building something, touching something de-composing, etc). If giving out snack during a lesson, do inform students of the point of the snack; that it is to help them focus while they listen to instructions or whatever it may be. Do al-low students to quietly munch while they listen. I have found that snack really does help stu-dents focus, if they know that they are expected to!

2. Snack content can serve different purposes (long term energy or short energy bursts/morale boosters). Depending on the time of day and what you have with you, it is very possible to support student success by providing them the right kind of snack! Let’s say you have a bag of pretzels, carrot sticks, and cheese sticks in your bag to serve as snack all day long. These are all tools at your disposal! The carrots and cheese provide a high-fiber, high-pro-tein snack that you can use to help your students’ brains and bodies totally jam on a more fo-cused activity. Conversely, the pretzels provide a quick tide-over that will provide a burst of en-ergy and morale boost for students during that dreaded afternoon lag! The beauty is, it is up to you as the instructor to administer snacks as necessary, knowing the benefits of each one.

3. Snack can be an appropriate fidget when learning in the out-of-doors. There are SO many tempting things to play with when learning outside! Especially when in a new, scintillating environment full of tiny temptations, I have found handing out snack to be an incredibly useful way to buy five minutes of time to explain the next activity. The students have something quiet to do with their hands, they are chewing and not talking to others, and they are gaining sustenance while they learn what they will be doing next. Win-win-win!

4. If possible, snack should be planned into the day as a means of proactively supporting student success. The more I’ve observed students learning out in the field, the more I’ve real-ized that a well timed, nutritious snack can boost students to their happiest and most ready-to-learn headspace. Where I used to sometimes forget snack as I was packing my backpack for the day, now it is one of the first things I put into my bag. I plan it into both my mornings and my afternoons-- I want to give students every support I can as they learn in the outdoors!

In my years working with children prior to being a full-time outdoor teacher, I knew that students’ nutrition factored greatly into their ability to focus in class. However, never did I see the immedi-ate effect a snack can have on a group of students until I began teaching in the outdoors. A sim-ple bag of pretzels can mean the difference between sobbing children and a victorious hike; a handful of carrots can dictate whether or not students feel the urge to fling themselves willy-nillly down a hill filled with Stinging Nettle. With great snack, comes great power. The four following understandings will help anyone rock the power of the snack to support student success.

Note: Not all outdoor programs will have the same snack options. Make the most of what you have; these ideas are meant as guidelines to be considered, but not as strict rules!

1. Snack timing can make or break a lesson. A couple of do’s and don’ts on this one. Don’t give students snack when you also expect them to do something else with their hands (like writing, building something, touching something de-composing, etc). If giving out snack during a lesson, do inform students of the point of the snack; that it is to help them focus while they listen to instructions or whatever it may be. Do al-low students to quietly munch while they listen. I have found that snack really does help stu-dents focus, if they know that they are expected to!

2. Snack content can serve different purposes (long term energy or short energy bursts/morale boosters). Depending on the time of day and what you have with you, it is very possible to support student success by providing them the right kind of snack! Let’s say you have a bag of pretzels, carrot sticks, and cheese sticks in your bag to serve as snack all day long. These are all tools at your disposal! The carrots and cheese provide a high-fiber, high-pro-tein snack that you can use to help your students’ brains and bodies totally jam on a more fo-cused activity. Conversely, the pretzels provide a quick tide-over that will provide a burst of en-ergy and morale boost for students during that dreaded afternoon lag! The beauty is, it is up to you as the instructor to administer snacks as necessary, knowing the benefits of each one.

3. Snack can be an appropriate fidget when learning in the out-of-doors. There are SO many tempting things to play with when learning outside! Especially when in a new, scintillating environment full of tiny temptations, I have found handing out snack to be an incredibly useful way to buy five minutes of time to explain the next activity. The students have something quiet to do with their hands, they are chewing and not talking to others, and they are gaining sustenance while they learn what they will be doing next. Win-win-win!

4. If possible, snack should be planned into the day as a means of proactively supporting student success. The more I’ve observed students learning out in the field, the more I’ve real-ized that a well timed, nutritious snack can boost students to their happiest and most ready-to-learn headspace. Where I used to sometimes forget snack as I was packing my backpack for the day, now it is one of the first things I put into my bag. I plan it into both my mornings and my afternoons-- I want to give students every support I can as they learn in the outdoors!

About the Author
Anna Socolofsky

Ms. Socolofsky is an outdoor science educator who perceives her job as threefold: to keep students safe and healthy, to help them learn something, and to help them have a lot of fun. She believes that the richest learning can only happen when students have their physical and emotional needs met, and for that reason she plans specifically for bio-breaks, snacks, and lots of teambuilding! Ms. Socolofsky takes great joy in student learning and discovery, and looks forward to bringing outdoor teaching skills into her future middle school classrooms.