Students with disabilities need explicit and repetitive instruction, so it's important that we maximize our instruction across school environments. Lunchtime often involves a busy and noisy environment, social interactions, and the need to manage students' own behavior and self-care. There are so many opportunities for incidental teaching! Here are some functional skills that students with disabilities can work on during lunchtime.
Students with disabilities can work on social skills during lunch by learning how to initiate and maintain conversations with peers, ask for help, share food or utensils appropriately, and use polite language. Many students have paraprofessional support during lunch. Support inclusion by sending students to lunch with their peers. Paraprofessionals can pre-teach and remind students of social skills to work on prior to going to the cafeteria, and then students can practice these skills with their same-age peers. Use your paras to provide specific feedback and praise.
Lunchtime provides an opportunity for students to practice self-care skills, such as opening containers, using utensils, cutting food, and cleaning up after themselves. They can also practice hygiene skills, such as washing hands before and after eating. Being able to
Executive functioning skills
Students can work on executive functioning skills during lunch by planning ahead for what they will eat and how they will manage their time, organizing their lunch items, and monitoring their own behavior and emotions. For older students, giving them some freedom to spend their time after lunch as they choose is a great way to practice executive functioning skills. Using visual timers during lunch is a great way to work on time management.
Lunchtime can present challenges for students with disabilities, such as dealing with food they don't like, managing social situations, or handling unexpected events. They can work on problem-solving skills by learning to identify problems, generate possible solutions, and choose the best course of action.
Lunchtime can also be a time when safety issues arise, such as choking, food allergies, or spills. You can target safety skills, such as chewing food thoroughly, being aware of allergies, and reporting safety concerns to an adult.
Download the Lunch Time Targets Checklist & Assessment in the free resource library:
By targeting specific functional skills during lunchtime, we can help students with disabilities to build independence, confidence, and social skills that will serve them well in other areas of their lives.