I ran a school breakfast club for ten years. Here's what I learned
There was a time when attending a school breakfast club was almost unheard of. Then, in the 1990s, many communities and schools started setting up breakfast clubs to support families in deprived areas. They did this by helping parents who had early morning work commitments, and those who couldn't afford to give their children breakfast every day.
Today, many schools across the UK have their own school breakfast club. Most are based on the school premises and are supervised by teachers, teaching assistants, catering staff or outside agencies. There is no standard structure or model for a school breakfast club, but most have the same basic features. They provide a choice of healthy breakfast options, and opportunities for children to take part in a range of activities once they have eaten. Most clubs charge a small fee to contribute towards the cost of the food and staff wages, with a reduction for those receiving Free School Meals (FSM).
School breakfast clubs are widely perceived to have a variety of benefits for children, their parents and the school:
12 ways having a school breakfast club benefits children, parents and schools
Benefits for children
- Sitting down at a table with others to eat (something that not all children will experience at home).
- A choice of new or different foods than those they may be used to.
- The opportunity to chat and cooperate with other children of different ages or from different school classes. Interactions like these contribute to the development of social skills and confidence.
- The chance to engage in a choice of activities such as sports, playing board games, art activities, or even time to complete homework!
- Improved concentration and behaviour in lessons.
Benefits for parents
- Reduces some of the stress and pressure on families with hectic morning routines.
- Allows working parents more flexibility.
- Gives parents peace of mind knowing that their children are at school and safe – and given a healthy breakfast.
Benefits for schools and teachers
- Improvement to attendance figures and punctuality.
- Strengthens the bonds and communication between parents, children and the school.
- Helps schools to meet the statutory requirements of the Childcare Act 2006 (to secure sufficient childcare for working parents). It also helps them address the Extended Schools requirement to provide childcare between 8am and 6pm.
- Helps schools to address the five Every Child Matters outcomes: be healthy, enjoy and achieve, stay safe, economic well-being and make a positive contribution.
What I learned while running a school breakfast club
In my previous life as a teacher, I ran my school's breakfast club for ten years. I saw first-hand the positive impact it had on all those involved. The more relaxed atmosphere of the club—in contrast to the classroom environment—enabled children and staff to interact in a less formal manner. Relationships were developed and strengthened due to this opportunity. Breakfast club staff would sit down alongside the children to eat with them. Teachers arriving at school would often pop in and grab some toast too, spending a few minutes chatting to the children.
We regularly gave quick questionnaires to both children and parents. In them, we asked which foods and activities they/their child particularly enjoyed, and for suggestions for new foods or activities. I, and the other school breakfast club staff, acted on these requests wherever possible. We wanted to make the children feel that it was 'their' club, and that they had a say in what it was like.
The best couple of pounds we ever spent was on a 'toast stamp' which imprinted the words 'Happy Birthday' onto the bread. Without fail, children were always delighted when they got their birthday toast! It really made them feel special and ‘a part of the club'.
Giving children breakfast before their exams made a positive difference
Every year, during SATs week, we invited all of our Year 6 children to breakfast club – free of charge. This was done to try and give them a positive, settled start to the day with a full stomach. I, and other teachers, noticed the positive impact this had – but you wouldn't believe how many loaves of bread and boxes of cereal we went through that week!
I saw how school breakfast clubs can make children kinder and more sociable
Aside from the obvious benefit of a nutritious, filling breakfast, I believe that the way our school breakfast club benefitted children was by providing increased social interaction. Children spent time chatting, in a different context, with other children they did not usually encounter in a typical school day. I witnessed the nurturing side of many children. The older ones looked fondly (although occasionally exasperatingly!) upon the younger children, and felt it was their duty to show them how to spread the butter, cut the toast, pour the milk. These small, yet significant moments, always made me smile and made it slightly less of a chore to set my alarm for 5:30am every morning!
Ideas if you're planning to launch your own school breakfast club
The importance of—and need for—breakfast clubs in schools is clear. The benefits far outweigh any perceived drawbacks (extra costs and staffing being the usual suspects). That said, it does of course cost money to set one up. The good news is that there are a few organisations to which schools can apply for funding and grants, including Kelloggs, Greggs Foundation and Magic Breakfast.
If you are interested in setting up a breakfast club in your local school or community, here is a link to a good practise guide by Healthy Food for All (a multi-agency initiative seeking to combat food poverty by promoting access, availability and affordability of healthy food for low-income groups) has written a good practice guide.
Running a school breakfast club already?
We've made a completely free School Breakfast Club Activity Pack with some fresh, fun ideas to mix things up a bit!