Is the mess worth it? What young children are learning with their senses and utensils

Young children are learning with their senses and utensils is benefiting their development.

When it comes to transitioning from being fed, to finger foods, to feeding themselves, is often glorious excitement for the young children and nightmarish for parents who are cleaning up afterwards. So why go through it? As with many lessons in life, the more you get your hands dirty the more you learn. Young babies and children are constantly learning with the majority of their input coming from doing (tactile, as opposed to visual, auditory or verbal).

Feeding has to be practiced, so what all is happening during this time?

  1. Hand-eye coordination
  2. Spatial relations – where a child’s mouth is in relation to the end of the spoon; how far to reach for a cup
  3. Perseverance – when food falls (and it will), placing it back on the fork and trying again is a lesson in, and of itself
  4. Fine motor – precision and refinement of “pincher” grasp
  5. Large muscle control – how much force does it take to put a cup down, verses slamming or throwing?
  6. Oral muscle development – muscle movements needed for varying textures and consistencies
  7. Variety of tastes and textures
  8. Self-regulation – responding to hunger and full cues by asking for more and indicating “all done.”

For a young child the independence of feeding themselves is rewarding and powerful. You will be helping your child gain healthy habits that last a lifetime and bring them great satisfaction along the way! You and your child’s caregivers can play an active role in encouraging and supporting them through this development.

Michigan State University Extension educators can be a great resource for information through presentations and group series to assist you in meeting your family’s needs, stretching food dollars, recipe resources and more!

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