Want every pupil in your school to have fantastic lunchtimes?

Want every pupil in your school to have fantastic lunchtimes?

…especially those who find it hardest to mange during this chaotic part of the day? Such as those with additional needs such as autism or ADHD?

Let me show you how!

Why some children can get into trouble at lunchtimes

Do you find the same kids get into trouble at lunchtimes, day after day? Time consuming, isn’t it?

What’s more, the majority of schools deploy their least qualified members of staff to supervise this most hectic time of day.

The playground at lunchtime can be a pretty scary and overwhelming place.

There are a lot of children. A lot of noise. A lot of movement. And sometimes, not a lot of structure. Add in the fact that some pupils view ‘free time’ as ‘free to do whatever you like time!’ And you have a recipe for chaos and stress.

The fact is: some children are simply not equipped to cope with ‘unstructured times’. Pupils with additional needs such as Autism or ADHD can really struggle with lunchtimes.

Melt downs or poor behaviours are commonly triggered by changes in routine, less familiar adults, and sensory sensitivities such as powerful food smells or misophonia (hatred of other people eating loudly). By the way: who doesn’t hate that?!

(By the way, if you want to improve the dining room experience for all of your students, you should read our article ‘How to create a happier dining room’).

But, what else can be done to support pupils with ASD to have happier, calmer, more successful lunchtimes, both in the dining room and outside on the playground?


For children with additional needs, the trick is reducing anxiety.

Try these three simple ideas:

  • chunk their time out on the playground, so they are never left out enduring unmediated social time for too long. Try 20 minutes outside play, 20 minutes eating time (maybe in a quieter area of the dining room), and 20 minutes indoor play. Make a personalised visual timetable to back up this information.
  • give them access to a key adult, lunchtime club or sensory room they can go to if they feel overwhelmed. Create a space that children can be directed to, or chose to go to if it’s all getting a bit too much. Make sure the pupil knows who their key adult is that day (if it can’t always be the same member of staff), and add their photo to the child’s personalised timetable.
  • practise social stories / comic strip conversations about how to join in games / lunchtime routines. Pupils with ASD may need to be explicitly taught social interactions such as how to ask to join in a game, what to do if other pupils say no, the importance of following rules, what to do when someone wants to leave or change the game.

Next steps

If you’ve found this article useful, and you’re ready to continue moving lunchtimes forwards for the benefit of everyone in your school, we’ve got something just for you: The Lunchtime Masterplan.

It’s our comprehensive, easy to use system for assessing your provision, plus the top quick fixes that outstanding schools exploit to ensure that pupils don’t just survive, but thrive, at lunchtimes.


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