This blog is all about talking to your little one during mealtimes. Engaging with your baby through conversation supports the development of their literacy, communication and language skills.
Why chat with your baby at mealtimes, and what can I talk about?
During a busy day, talking to your baby while they eat is a beautiful way to strengthen your bond and help them improve their communication skills.
Everyday conversation with your baby strengthens their foundation for language development and learning.
Talking to your little one allows them to make critical cognitive connections within their brain which begin to develop before they can thoroughly communicate.
However, your conversation can, of course, include other topics such as "Oh, the sun is shining today", "I think we'll go to the park after you've finished your yoghurt", or "I have a lot to do today. I wonder if we can do some things together".
By engaging your little one in open discussion as you think out loud, they are likely to feel more included and understand that mealtimes are a time to connect.
In addition, this will aid their social and language development as they encounter social situations and learn how conversations are structured.
But first and foremost, how can we prepare those little hands for food? It is critical to develop hygiene practices with your child. Tell them that keeping their bodies clean is very important to prevent them from feeling unwell.
Before and after they eat, explain to your little one:
Let's wash our hands to get rid of the germs. I'll turn the tap on, and we can do the soap together".
As they do this, you can add descriptive words to explain what they are doing during the process, such as "Wash, wash", "Rub-a-dub-dub" or "Splash splash".
Why not make up a song to make it more fun and engaging for your baby? They will love hearing you sing in a variety of pitches and tones.
Singing does wonders for your little one's well-being and teaches them about rhythm and rhyme, supporting their literacy and mathematical development.
Food and Emotions
Your little one may communicate with a combination of grunts and gestures, movements and actions. For example, they may point to a food item they want or knock it away if they do not want it. During mealtimes, your little one may have positive and negative emotional expressions, and understanding their needs around food takes time and patience.
You can help them connect the taste of something and facial expressions. For example," "I can see you like the strawberry; you're smiling" or " Maybe you are not so keen on that flavour at the moment; we could try it later instead."
Try to label their emotions. For example, you can say, "When your tummy is filled with food, you are happy". Doing this helps them understand and recognise the different feelings and emotions they experience and supports their personal, social and emotional development.
Giving your little one choice
If you can offer your baby a choice of different flavours, they may point to the one they want, which is their way of communicating. s they do this, respond to them and say," You are pointing to the yoghurt. Would you like it?" or you could say, "Great choice! You chose the tomato, they are red?". This will help your little one understand that they have a choice in things that affect them whilst also supporting their personal and emotional development.
What am I eating?
Mealtimes provide fantastic opportunities to talk to your child about food and where it comes from Whether it comes from the vegetable patch at home or food traditionally eaten in other countries, your little one will love to hear about all the different varieties of food.
You can talk about seasonal foods too, such as pumpkin, which can lead to other conversations around Halloween and the Autumn season.
To give you another example, if they have strawberries, let your baby know how and where they grow.
Talking to your little one about different cultures and what people eat in other countries will help them understand their environment and the world around them.
In addition, you can talk about the shape, weight and size of the foods, which is a great way to incorporate mathematical terms into your little one's learning.
Describing foods by their characteristics or colour will help your little one make connections between names and objects. When your little one is eating, you could start conversations such as:
"Hmm, I wonder what the red fruit is. Can you tell me?"
"Where is the red fruit, can you point to the red fruit?"
"Can you find the fruit with seeds?".
Talking about the characteristics of food is an excellent technique to help them develop their literacy skills by expanding their word vocabulary and allowing them to create connections.
They are practising critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.
They will learn how a conversation is structured, as they sit and listen while another person speaks.
Why not eat with your little one?
Mealtimes are great for sitting down together to slow down after a busy day, without the usual distractions. It is crucial that you role-model positive attitudes towards relationships with food so that your baby can enjoy the experience of food.
Hovering over a baby or engaging them constantly might be distracting or stressful, so when you eat with them, they can observe you and see how you eat too!
You could do this as you pretend to try some of their food and say, "My turn, your turn", whilst making positive comments such as "Mmm, I love the crunchy carrot!" or "Yum, apples are my favourite, so juicy!".
Learning to take turns is a vital part of their social development that they will encounter more and more of as they grow older.
Letting your little one feel the texture of their food is fantastic for the development of their sensory skills and refinement of their physical fine motor skills. Albeit messy, they are learning so much from the different textures of their food!
Reading to your little one is a wonderful way to introduce new words, and build on their listening, memory, and vocabulary skills. In addition to this, it also helps them with communication skills and introduces other concepts such as letters, colours and shapes in a fun and engaging way. We have suggested two fantastic books based on food.
'Baby Let's Eat!' by Amy Pixton is literally a book that your little one can sink their gums into It is indestructible and is designed to be washed, chewed, held, pulled and bent so that your little one can begin to 'read' in their own way. Share this brightly coloured and beautifully illustrated book with your little one to explore the different varieties of foods and colour categories.
'Baby Let's Eat!' by Amy Pixton
Lois Ehlert's 'Eating the Alphabet' board book is brilliant and colourful, and your little one is bound to enjoy it. The book features various fruits and vegetables from throughout the world and is incredibly appealing and interesting owing to the watercolour illustrations and easy-to-read text. It includes a glossary with pronunciation, botanical facts, the origin and history of the specific plant, and occasional mythological references.
'Eating the Alphabet' by Lois Ehlert
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