Our sense of touch gives us a lot of information that informs how we act. We ‘get a feel’ for something. We ‘feel things out,’ then decide how to proceed.
While we have feeling in the skin of our whole bodies, the sense of touch is primarily associated with our fingers and hands. Our fingers have one of the highest concentrations of nerve endings in our bodies and because of our hands’ placement and role in reaching and grasping, we use them to gather a lot of information about the world around us.
Babies and toddlers, reach, grab, touch, and play with everything around them from different textures of toys and textiles to the food on your plate and theirs. They learn by touching with their hands and when they’re comfortable with something on their hands, they bring it to their mouths to explore it further. This is the natural progression of the exploration of touch and it’s an underlying principle for why food play is so important and why it works to help kids become comfortable with new foods. It’s how we’re naturally wired to learn as humans.
We learn so much from our sense of touch! When we touch objects and foods we learn about their texture, shape, density, temperature, if they’re hard or mushy, smooth or bumpy, dry, wet or sticky. As children get older their vocabulary and experiences become more nuanced and they learn more and more specific words for the sensations they’ve explored their whole lives.
If a child has missed out on the exploration of a wide variety of foods for any reason, medical or otherwise, food play is an essential part of the development of food learning that they need to experience in order to become comfortable with the feel of foods. If a child loved to explore foods when they were little, but slowly dropped foods out of their diets, food play can be a great way to return to the curiosity they had about foods early in life.
Getting a ‘feel’ for different foods is an essential step in gaining the comfort level that’s the foundation for adventurous eating. So set aside some time for you and your child to play with your food. You can make up your own activity or game or pick something from the many activities in the categories menu on the right.
Have fun and happy food play!