Play With Your Food, and Learn About the World

As parents, we’re often frustrated by our child’s messy table manners. But according to a recent article on Mother Nature Network, this sort of food play allows children to explore textures – to associate the look and taste of food with its feel. Research also suggests it may even help expand their vocabularies.

“Five Surprising Ways That Children Learn,” by Sami Grover, playfully explores the ability of children to learn in ways adults might find surprising. As Grover points out, what’s important is “teaching a child how to think – and doing so in ways that explore the full diversity, wonder, and challenge of the complicated, ambiguous, and often messy world around us.”He’s not alone. In a New York Times blog post, Dr. Perri Klass wholeheartedly supports the concept of playing with your food. In fact: “… mealtime mess might actually be a sign of intelligence,” he suggests.

Klass also notes that “toddlers play with their food because toddlers play with their worlds. And by playing and exploring, they accumulate all kinds of data, which helps them put together a picture and a vocabulary for the world around them.”

Messy isn’t really about making a mess; it’s about digging into problems and exploring your environment with a sleeves-rolled-up attitude. It’s a form of play. And play of all kinds, even food play, is important to the ways children learn, whether it’s unstructured, structured (as in exercise or team sports), or even video-game play (which connects kids to technology in a special way).

“There is a myth that doing nothing is wasting time, when it’s actually extremely productive and essential,” comments author and psychology professor Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek in Grover’s article, “During empty hours, kids explore the world at their own pace …”

Those of us of a certain age who developed our imaginations through play, know just what she means.