|In Sweden, approximately 84% of children are enrolled in preschool, which constitutes the first step of the educational system and which embraces children from ages 1–5 years. Most children eat breakfast, lunch and snacks at preschool. In previous research, (Pramling & Ødegaard Eriksen, 2011; Sheridan, Pramling Samuelsson & Johansson, 2009) preschool teachers have described the meal as an activity in which children are given the opportunity to communicate and interact with adults and other children. Despite this approach, research has shown that the meal activities often foster values, for example, eating with cutlery, eating the food served, and sitting right at the tables and peace and peace and quiet can play a prominent role at the table when the children are going to eat (Emilson, 2008; Johansson & Pramling Samuelsson, 2000; Norman, 2003). This study is expected to increase our knowledge regarding children’s perspectives during mealtimes at preschool. The aim of this study is to contribute with knowledge about children's space to act during meals at preschool. The questions at issue are as follows: How are children positioned and how do they position themselves in meal situations? What becomes visible in these situations? The study is theoretically based on a sociocultural perspective, theories from Vygotsky (1978, 1995 and 2010) and Goffman (1983b) and the interaction order. The method of selection was based on the aim of the study—to contribute to the knowledge of children’s space as actors during meals. Data were generated qualitatively through video observations in two Swedish preschool departments.
One main finding in the study was that children’s space to become actors during meals was limited and linked to structural conditions, which framed the meal. The structural conditions limited children’s participation and influence. In addition, in conversations, the children positioned themselves in both challenging and playful ways, and these positions were determined based on how the meal was framed. Sometimes, children used either their age, their positions or a pronounced resistance to be heard. This reflects the importance of adults understanding and taking responsibility for how they assign children responsibility and the importance it can then have for the group. In this study, the children tried to create space by breaking rules or by acting in a non-normative manner, such as by either moving a chair, pouring water or not taking food in the way that was expected by the adults. Because a meal is part of a preschool’s practice, where there are no pre-determined discussion topics, the subjects that the children choose to talk about often reflect their own experiences. Children want to own their conversations and thus try to position themselves to do so.