A report by the University of Iowa in the US has found that the messier your child gets while playing with food in the highchair, the more he or she is learning.
The team studied how 16-month-old children learn words such as jam and jelly, by exposing them to 14 non-solid objects, mostly food and drinks. As each item was handed to them it was given a made-up word, such as ‘dax’ or ‘kiv’.
A minute later, they asked the children to identify the same food in different sizes or shapes. The task required the youngsters to go beyond relying simply on shape and size and to explore what the substances were made of to make the correct identification and word choice.
Not surprisingly, many of the children set about the task by poking, prodding and even throwing the non-solids in order to understand what they were and make the correct association with the made-up names.
Those who interacted the most with the items were more likely to correctly identify them by their texture and name them.
The authors say the study shows how children’s behaviour, environment and the way they explore the environment helps them acquire an early vocabulary-learning that is linked to improved thinking skills later in life.
WebMD UK Health News, reported Lynn Perry, one of the designers of the study as saying: “They’re not just being messy, there’s information that can be gained from that messiness. So they might just be having fun, feeding and touching food at that moment, but that messiness is helping them learn about things.
She adds: “I think what this research really highlights is the importance of play and exploration in general – that it’s not specific just for learning about food, but that it’s play and simple, everyday activities that are important for teaching them how the world works.”