Talking to Your Little One During Mealtimes
Welcome to Part 1 in the Babbu mealtimes series! 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.
Ways to incorporate Dinner Chat into your little one’s learning:
Personal, Social, and Emotional Development
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 body clean is very important to prevent them 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 in 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 it also teaches them about rhythm and rhyme which also supports their literacy and mathematical development.
Food and Emotions
Your little one may communicate with a combination of grunts and gestures, movements and actions. 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 make connections between 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”. By doing this, it 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 are able to offer your baby a choice of different flavours, they may point to the one they want, which is their way of communicating. As 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. Tomatoes are red. Do you like 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.
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.Physical Development
It is important for your little one to understand oral hygiene from early on. Explain to them that the food gets stuck in their teeth and that in order to keep them clean and healthy, we need to look after them by brushing them twice a day.
You could make up a song as they brush their teeth to describe what they are doing, such as “Brush brush brush your teeth, up and down, up and down” and “Splash, splash, splash!” as the water splashes into the sink.Sensory explosion!
As your baby grows and explores different foods, they experience a whole load of different sensory sensations. Everything from the texture of the fruit skin to the juiciness when eating it, not only is it exposing your child to new flavours crucial for a healthy lifestyle, but it also helps them to figure out their likes and dislikes.
Talk to your little one about what they’re seeing, hearing and experiencing! For example, if your baby has a slice of orange, you could talk about the shape and colour of it. As they eat it, add in words such as "Crunch! Crunch!" or "Yum, yum!", smile and rub your tummy to demonstrate to your little one positive relationships with food.
Encourage your little one to feel the texture of the food they are eating. For example, an orange skin may be rough, smooth, or cold, whereas other foods may be mushy, crunchy, hard or soft. Allowing them to investigate their food is an excellent way for them to develop their sense of touch.Communication and Language
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 wonderful 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 helps them to make important cognitive connections within their brain which begin to develop before they can completely 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. This will aid their social and language development as they encounter social situations and learn how conversations are structured.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 which is 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 a pumpkin, which can lead to other conversations around Halloween and the Autumn season. To give you another example, if they’re having 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 to this, you can talk about the shape, weight and size of the foods too, which is a great way to incorporate mathematical terms into your little ones' learning.
It is important to make healthy choices both as an adult and with your baby. For example, you can tell them that having 5-a-day of fruit or vegetables contains vitamins which keep them healthy and help them to grow big and strong. You may want to explain what 'organic' food is and why it is preferable to non-organic, due to the chemicals put on them to promote growth in the field.
When your little one is eating, you could say "Hmm, I wonder what the red fruit is. Can you tell me?". By describing foods by their characteristics or colour, this will help your little one make connections between names and objects. Or, if your little one is ready for some more challenging questions, you could ask something such as: "Where is the red fruit? Can you point to the red fruit?" or "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 while they do this. As you do this, they will learn how conversation is structured, as they sit and listen while another person speaks, which are great skills to be practising that will set them up for later in life.
Reading to your little one is a wonderful way to introduce new words, 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 around 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.
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.
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