Snack as a Center Choice

Preschool children need time during the day for group times, free choice play activities, snacks and/or meals, rest time, and outdoor play in order to support their development and learning.  Designing a schedule to ensure enough time for all these activities can be like putting a puzzle together with too many pieces.  Not everything fits.  This is especially true for part-day programs.  In an effort to maximize the time for each scheduled routine or learning activity, teachers will sometimes offer snack as a center choice during free play.

As we transition to using the ECERS-3, here are some things to consider for those programs who decide to offer snack as a choice during self-selected free play:

  • Sometimes part day programs do not offer snack because teachers feel children eat before and after preschool. Keep in mind that all children must be offered a meal or snack every two and not more than 3 hours.  Children’s appetites and interests in foods vary.  By offering a nutritious meal or snack every 2-3 hours, it will ensure children get enough calories for the day.  A snack or meal must be observed during the 3-hour time sample.  Meals and snacks must meet CACFP requirements (Child and Adult Care Food Program) even if a center does not participate in the program.
  • The option for choosing whether to eat snack should only be offered to older preschoolers. Younger preschoolers must have a snack or a meal.
  • Offering snack at center time as an optional activity to older preschoolers does take then away from play activities. Some children will choose to play rather than eat even though their bodies may need nourishment. If snack is offered as a choice to older preschoolers, staff must encourage children to participate.  This means that children not only hear about snack, but also see what is being offered.  Children may decide they are hungry after all when they see an appetizing snack.
  • Teachers need to participate in snack even though it is offered as a choice. Even older preschoolers may need assistance with portion control, serving themselves, and clean-up procedures.   When teachers are actively involved with children during snack, they can engage children in conversations that will enhance their language development.   Providers also need to remember to clean/sanitize each place at the table between uses.
  • The ECERS-3 requires one-hour for free choice time during a three-hour time sample with only a two-minute grace period. Teachers must be cognizant of the average time all children spent eating snack and extend free play, if needed, by that amount of time to compensate for it.

New CACFP guidelines (effective 10-1-17)

Reference:  Harms, T., Clifford, R. and D. Cryer (2015).  Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (third edition).  New York: Teachers College Press.




Kris Corrigan is an Environment Rating Scale Assessor with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She has been in her current position for three years. She enjoys meeting and working with providers who are committed to providing quality environments for the children in their care. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family including her four cats.

More Posts - Website

Sanitizing and Disinfecting: What’s the Difference?

The terms sanitizing and disinfecting often cause confusion for providers who are trying to implement correct hygienic practices. The Environment Rating Scales follow the guidelines in the 2011 edition of Caring for Our Children (CFOC) 3rd edition. They indicate that the terms are often used interchangeably, but there are differences in the solution strength and appropriate use. Here’s the difference:

Red_Spray_bottle_bing image_share and use“A sanitizer is a product that reduces but does not eliminate germs on inanimate surfaces to levels considered safe by public health codes.”

“A disinfectant is a product that destroys or inactivates germs on inanimate surfaces.”

When to Sanitize or Disinfect? (Per Caring for Our Children, 3rd edition)

Sanitizing is appropriate for food contact surfaces (dishes, utensils, high chair trays, tables used for eating, for example). Toys that are mouthed and pacifiers should also be sanitized.

A disinfect is more appropriate for hard, non-porous surfaces such as diaper changing tables, toilets and other bathroom surfaces.

What can be used for Sanitizing or Disinfecting?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicates that only products with an EPA registration number can make public health claims that they are effective in reducing or inactivating germs. Check the label of all products to see if they are EPA registered. If so, you will find an EPA registration number on the label. Follow the directions on the container for use as a sanitizer or disinfectant. For more detailed information about the product, the EPA website has product safety sheets on EPA registered products.

For more information check out these three links in Caring For Our Children:

Standard 3.3 Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting

Appendix J Selecting an Appropriate Sanitizer or Disinfectant

Appendix K Routine Schedule for Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting

Kris Signature







Melissa Wagner

Melissa Wagner

Melissa Wagner is an Early Childhood Coordinator with Iowa State University Extension & Outreach. Melissa has over 10 years of experience with the Environment Rating Scales as an assessor for research projects and Iowa's Quality Rating System and now as the ERS Training project coordinator. Melissa loves hearing success stories about providers who have made great strides to improve the quality of care within their program. In her free time she enjoys spending time with family, traveling, camping, and house projects.

More Posts - Website