"The Lunch and Learn program began as a way to invite parents into the school to learn how they could better help their sons and daughters," recalled Dawn Marcott. "Many parents were asking the question, 'What can I do at home to help my child to learn?' We chose to address the areas of reading, writing and mathematics."
In three separate events for different subjects, parents of kindergartners visit Sherman Elementary School and have a half-hour lunch with their children. Then the students go to recess and the parents go to school. They meet with curriculum specialists and kindergarten teachers, including Marcott. They find out how the Eau Claire (Wisconsin) teachers instruct their kindergartners to read, write, or do math. Then students join parents to practice skills the parents have learned.
"Many parents are unsure about how to help their children, as schools today may be different from what the parents are familiar with from their childhood," Marcott told Education World. "We found Lunch and Learn to be a great way to bridge the gap and make parents feel more comfortable with what is being taught and how they fit in the learning process."
Parents are also shown what they can expect from the children and how to encourage growth in each specific area. They examine the stages from "pretend" to "real" reading and from inventive to conventional spelling. They are encouraged to praise their kids and read with their children often.
"Parents are often very critical and point out mistakes in these curricular areas in an effort to help their children to learn," Marcott reported. "We encourage them to be positive and enjoy the journey along with their children."
At each session, kindergarten teachers facilitate a skill review with parents and students. For example, at the reading event the children read books with repetitive text. At the writing event, students share their journals and read words, sentences, and stories they have written. They also write a journal entry about having a parent come to school. (Students who don't have a parent present are aided by school personnel.) When the focus is math, the students play math games with their parents.
A Lunch and Learn event takes only about 90 minutes, but attendance is high and feedback positive. Marcott knew the program was a true success when an overwhelming number of parents showed up not just for the first event, but for the two subsequent ones as well. Parents often return in following years with their younger children, and the program brings out a surprising quantity of grandparents.
"Many grandparents come to our Lunch and Learn events when parents are unable to leave work to attend," Marcott shared. "It is a great bonding experience for grandparents and grandchildren. Grandparents often have more free time and really enjoy spending the time working with their grandchildren. This is a great way to show them how to do it."
Lunch and Learn is a simple program to operate, Marcott says, and its benefits far outweigh the preparation required. She receives cooperation from lunch staff to serve extra meals and help from reading and math specialists as featured speakers. She and other kindergarten teachers extend invitations to the parents, send home a menu before the event so an accurate lunch count can be generated, and manage the "learning" portion of the day.
"At one Lunch and Learn, a parent held back tears as she expressed how thrilled she was that her five-year-old son could actually read," added Marcott. "It was such a memorable moment. She could not believe that he was able to come home and pick up a book and read it to her."