Kids practice life skills through play and feeding skills are no exception. Often, we expect kids to sit down to meals and instinctively know how to eat, but a lot of feeding skills (like using utensils) are learned, and kids need practice to learn them!
Kids get to practice using utensils at meals, but play is an amazing opportunity to practice the motor skills of using utensils without the pressure and ‘high stakes’ of mealtimes. It’s ok and can even be kinda silly if everything falls off the spoon during play, but it can be really frustrating and discouraging when it takes forever to get a bite when you’re really hungry at a meal!
Kids learn from their own practice but they also learn from imitation. Practicing utensil skills through play gives us more opportunities to model how to use utensils. This can hopefully take a little stress out of utensil skills being something only worked on at mealtimes and anything that takes stress out of mealtimes is a good thing!
I like to use a somewhat heavy and sticky food when practicing scooping. A thick puree like yogurt or cooked grains like oatmeal, quinoa or rice stick together and to a spoon nicely and can be really fun to play with.
I often see kids playing with dried rice and beans, which gives a nice exposure to texture, but I like to play with cooked grains. Cooked grains give kids exposure to the foods in a form they’ll see on their plates and it lets them feel the texture their mouths will feel when they eat it. And, if a few stray grains go in the mouth, they get a little taste and a little snack, too!
Spoons and scoops provide endless opportunities for play and games. You could take turns scooping scoops of a food into a bowl until it’s full. Or pretend in a game like dump truck construction site and use spoons or scoops to fill up the dump trucks. You could pretend your spoons are airplanes or birds swooping down to pick up a scoop or play ice cream parlor and pretend to dish out scoops of ice cream.
To practice scooping thin liquids like soups, I like to take water play outside, or encourage families to bring spoons and scoops into the bath.
However you choose to practice and play, I hope it’s fun and delicious! Happy food play!