Trying to Teach Baby New Words? Do It at Dinner, Study Says

Messy baby eating with a spoon.
Veer

According to new research published in the journal Developmental Science, the best way for baby to learn his words is to let him make a mess at the dinner table (or well, just about any table!). The research, led by Larissa Samuelson, a psychologist at the University of Iowa found that by strapping kids into their high chairs, a child’s learning of words for non-solids was improved — especially when it came to those ooey-goey treats they’re not so familiar with (like applesauce, sweet potatoes, yogurt and broccoli- purees). Non-solids are harder to for baby to grasp because they take different shapes when they’re in a bowl, on a plate, in a container or smeared all over baby’s hands, face and your walls.

Researchers experimented by giving two different groupings of 16-month-olds 14 different non-solid foods (like applesauce, pudding, soup and juice) to play with. One group was given the foods to play with in their high chairs and the other group sat a table. The researchers used a make-believe work (like “dax” and “kiv”) to go along with each non-solid food. Then, researchers let the child play with their food for a minute, Afterward, they removed the food and showed the child the same food — only this time when they showed the food, it was in a clear container. Researchers then asked kids from both groups to say the name of the object in the clear container (which required them to go beyond size and shape to identify each food). Here’s what they found:

Kids who got to play with and manipulate their food were better at identifying them later — and so were the kids who got to play in their high chairs instead of just sitting at the table. Samuelson said, “It turns out that being in a high chair makes it more likely you’ll get messy, because kids know they can get messy there,” which makes all that spilling, smearing, splashing, throwing and smashing worth it (yikes!). And Samuelson added that all this playing is really important to the learning progress. She said, “It may look like your child is playing in the high chair, throwing things on the ground, and they may be doing that, but they are getting information out of (those actions). And, it turns out, they can use that information later. That’s what the high chair did. Playing with these foods there actually helped these children in the lab, and they learned the names better.”

So mom, what do you think? Will baby be playing with his foods more at dinner from now on?

Plus, more from The Bump:

Top 10 Baby-Food Recipes for Eight- to Ten-Month-Olds

The Best Foods for Baby (Plus, a Few to Avoid!)

Top 10 Baby-Food Recipes for Six- to Eight-Month-Olds