One of my very favorite stories of myself as a toddler occurred at the dinner table. No matter what my Daddy said to try and stop me, I continued to touch and play with my mashed potatoes during the evening meal. Finally, fed up with his little angel, he took my ENTIRE bowl and dumped it right on my head! I can only imagine the look on my mother’s face. And I can PROMISE you that SHE was the one that had to clean me up! What a mess! A cute mess, I’m sure, but still a MESS!
Babies and toddlers learn thru PLAY…and mealtime is NO DIFFERENT! When they eat, young children will explore their foods, bowls, utensils and cups by touching and mouthing. These new textures are simply AMAZING! And their little fingers now have enough dexterity to pick things up between their thumb and forefinger. Think about it…we are exposing them to a world of color, flavor, texture, and temperature. They are processing all of this and want to experience it through all of their senses!
WARNING: There will be a SIDE EFFECT! Your baby is going to get MESSY! Ewwwww! How awful is that?? Actually it’s totally okay! Let them get messy. Try shopping at your local baby supply store. Look around you. You will see everything from “splat mats” to bibs to high chairs that have a double removable tray for easy cleaning. You will find utensils and dishes in every shape, size and color, and you will be able to purchase “stain repelling” baby detergent. Why do you think this is? For as long as families have been raising young children, messy babies have existed! And it’s okay!
So, the next time your baby decides to self-feed a fist full of spaghetti, have a washcloth nearby, or better yet, just take their shirt off, but let them explore and try it! Touching and tasting these textures are building a wealth of experiences for your child, including fine motor, self-help skills, cognition, and language (especially when you add new vocabulary – messy, sticky, cold, or yuck!)
What ways have you made mealtime fun and messy without too much fuss?