Toddlers Who Play With Their Food May Be Faster Learners
A recent study indicates that toddlers are better able to learn certain words when they are sitting in their high chair, playing with their food.
Does mealtime seem more like playtime for your toddler? Five minutes into his meal, does his high chair, his face and everything within a 5-foot radius look like a Jackson Pollock painting? Well, as it turns out, your toddler wasn’t just testing your patience when he threw that handful of applesauce at your face. He was getting smarter.
According to a recent study by researchers at the University of Iowa, the more your child pokes, smears and plays with his food, the more he is learning. I know what you are all thinking—“Well, then my toddler’s a genius!” Yep, your little mealtime menace just became a tiny Einstein working out his theory of gravity with peas up his nose or a mini Van Gogh who is living out his art, expressing himself with his bowl of sweet potato mashed across his lap and some yogurt in his ears.
Well, perhaps we’re all getting ahead of ourselves with the “genius” part, but according to the study, kids who get down and dirty with their food in their high chairs are better at learning certain words and may be faster learners in the long run.
This study published in the Journal of Developmental Science concludes that children who played with their food, particularly the gooey, mushy, liquidy stuff learned the words associated with these non-solid foods faster than those who didn’t.
Head researcher and associate professor in psychology, Larissa Samuelson along with her research team exposed 74 toddlers, 16 months in age, to 14 non-solid foods such as applesauce, pudding, juice and soup. Some of the children got to sit in a high chair while the other sat at a table. The items were presented to the kids and given made up words like “dax” and “kiv.” A minute later, the toddlers had to identify the same food in different sizes or shapes.
Researchers discovered that the toddlers who dove in and got messy, exploring the food through their senses, through smooshing, prodding, tasting and throwing instead of just relying on the shape and size were more likely to correctly identify them by their texture, and learn the words associated with the nonsolid foods faster than those who didn’t.
Prior to this study, it was found that toddlers were able to more easily learn about solid objects, such as an apple or a cup, due to their unchanging shape and size. It was the non-solid foods, the oozy, liquid substances that presented more of a challenge to the little tykes. The researchers pointed out the difficulty to a 16-month-old in knowing the difference between two, similar non-solid things, such as a cup of milk and a cup of glue, by simply looking at them.
And being in a high chair makes a difference. The kids who got to make a mess in their high chairs instead of doing so at a table were better at identifying the words later. The setting of being in a high chair makes a difference because these toddlers “are used to seeing non-solids things in this context when they’re eating,” according to Samuelson. Being in a high chair rather than at a different setting, such as sitting at a table, made these children more adept at naming the food because they know they can get messy in a highchair. The study suggests that the messier the child gets while playing with food, the more he or she is engaging in active learning.
“It may look like your child is playing in the high chair, throwing things on the ground, and they may be doing that, but they are getting information out of (those actions),” Samuelson said.
I sort of wish the second part to that was, “It may look like you need to spend the next 45 minutes cleaning up the mess on the high chair and surrounding area, but it’s an illusion, go take a nap.”
Oh well, I guess it’s a small price to pay for raising a smart kid. So the next time your toddler squishes a banana through her fingers or throws her chicken and rice against the wall, stay calm and remember, there’s likely a benefit amidst all the crusty hair and food on the floor—you’re raising a genius. Yeah, I’m back to “genius.” It makes me feel more justified in letting my toddler wreak havoc on her high chair, and it will make me feel better the next time I get applesauce thrown in my face.
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