It’s common wisdom that young children need plenty of time to snack, eat, run around and play every day.
But when Brindi Matava visited her five-year-old daughter’s school in Kent, Washington, on Tuesday she was shocked to see children given just 12 minutes to eat their lunch.
“It was heartbreaking to watch and I left crying,” Mrs Matava, 27, told the BBC. “I had been curious why she was coming home with a full lunchbox.”
A spokesperson for the Kent School District told the BBC that children got 20 minutes for lunch and 15 minutes for play but that when Mrs Matava visited time had been cut short: “This can happen when classes arrive late to the lunch room or another class takes longer to clean up.”
Another parent from Glenridge Elementary, Kristine Crawford, 34, posted the story on Reddit, prompting others to share concerns about their own children’s schools.
“I can’t imagine that their growing developing minds are functioning at full capacity,” Mrs Crawford said.
Mrs Marina had been invited to join her daughter Adelaide for school lunch as a reward for being named star student but says she left horrified.
Children were given 12 minutes instead of 20 to walk into the lunch room, collect their food and eat, she told the BBC.
“You could tell some kids were still hungry because as they were instructed to put food in the bins, they were trying to quickly put food in their mouths,” Mrs Matava explained.
The Kent School District policy of a 20-minute lunch break is shorter than some other schools. Elementary schools have an average lunch time of 25 minutes, according to a 2018 survey of 1,550 schools by the School Nutrition Association.
Mrs Matava doesn’t believe that it was a one-off occurrence, saying her daughter’s weight had decreased from 38 to 36lb (17 to 16kg) since she started school a month ago.
Mrs Crawford says the discovery explained some of her daughter’s recent behaviour too:
“My daughter has been coming home with lots of uneaten food, saying she didn’t have time to eat it. She has had lots of stomach pains since she started school.”
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Kent School District says it can take time for children in their first year of school to learn routines.
“As our youngest learners learn to get organised, leave the classroom, and transition to lunch we continue to work with them and our adults to ensure they receive adequate time for their meals and for recess,” a spokesperson said.
“If any of our students do need more time and request it, our staff accommodate them.”
The two mums say they worried about their daughters’ educational prospects if they are not able to eat enough during the seven-hour school day.
Mrs Crawford believes the pressure on schools to maximise lesson time to meet demands of standardised testing is behind the brief lunch time.
Mrs Matava is worried that the lunch break is frequently cut short.
“How do we really know that they are getting the full time?” Mrs Matava asked.
“Even if it’s happening once or twice a week, I don’t think that this is good for our children.
“Adults by law have 30 minutes to eat their food, so why aren’t these little children getting the same rights?”
Mrs Crawford says she and other concerned families are asking for a 40-minute lunch break (15 for play, 25 for lunch) that would allow for 20 minutes of “seated time” for children.
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