Learning Anywhere, Every Day
Part 12 of 12 - Meal Times
6 September 2017
Young children learn basic math concepts and social skills naturally in everyday situations-- meal times like dinner, breakfast, lunch and even snack times-- are no exception. Here’s how you can transform these meals into learning opportunities for your preschooler:
Let’s look at math concepts first. Young children experience mathematical concepts of large and small as they play with toys and compare themselves to younger and older siblings. They notice the sizes of different animals such as a tiny dog and a big dog, say a chihuahua versus a golden retriever. While they play, young children learn mathematical concept of “more” when they need more blocks to finish their building. They learn the idea of using “less” when too much glue makes the paper tear. Mealtimes are great opportunities for preschoolers to experience math concepts and have fun, too.
Here are 4 ways to keep mathematical fun and learning going during your family meals:
- Setting the table. Count with your child the number of forks, knives, spoons or chopsticks you need. Note where each piece of tableware; plates, cups and napkins go. Point out that there is one place setting for each person. This lets preschoolers use and practice an important math skill called one-to-one correspondence.
- Ask practical math questions while preparing the meal. For example, “Our family has four people eating dinner. How many ears of corn should we shuck?” “How many napkins do we need for all of us?” Or, “Granpa and Granma can’t come tonight. How many people will be here for dinner?”
- Involve your child in measuring things. Young children enjoy using measuring tools. Let your preschooler use measuring cups and spoons to help with recipes. Talk about how the measuring cups and spoons look larger and smaller to reinforce these math concepts. For a different experience, you can use a ruler to measure how far each plate is from each other on your table.
Now for social skills! During meal times, preschoolers learn social skills such as handling their own utensils and proper table manners. They learn how to appropriately chat during meals, taking turns at talking and not interrupting others. Let’s look at three social learning experiences your preschooler has at mealtimes with family:
- Talk with your child while you are preparing the meal. Important concepts of following directions and helping others can be part of making every meal. Include your preschooler in the steps you take your meal’s preparation. Repeat the steps of a recipe out loud as you prepare the recipe. “Mix the water with the flour. Then stir it until it’s smooth.” Then, ask your preschooler to help you stir the mixture.
- Trying new foods. Preschoolers learn to be more independent and open-minded when they choose to try a new food. Vary the foods you serve and introduce new items. Set a good example by trying the food first and describing why you like it. Be patient, don’t give up just yet on your preschooler’s taste buds! It can take up to a dozen tries before a child decides she likes a new food.
- Chatting during meals. Talking with your preschooler helps them learn new words and understand how to use sentences. Mealtimes are perfect times for your child to share ideas, tell you about the day’s events, and make requests. Encourage listening too, so preschoolers can learn about taking turns and the patterns and rhythms of conversation. Check out one of our Chatty-do activities for more ideas to continue the conversation.
- Encouraging independence. Preschoolers are able to use utensils, drink from cups, serve themselves, and more. Preschoolers grow in independence when they can prepare their own plates and pour their own drinks.
Speaking of mealtimes, try making our Sunshine Salad or Ants on a Log to practice math concepts as you create these recipes. Then find even more ways to play around with math concepts in my blog, Learning Anywhere, Every Day - Math Adventures. For more social skills building check out Part 11 - Self-Control. I hope you have a blast exploring these social skills and math concepts with your child at mealtimes. Let us know what you found most fun or helpful and why-- you can give us your feedback right here!
This concludes my 12 part series on easy ways to learn through play every day. In case you missed it, here's where our Learning Anywhere, Every Day series began. And stay tuned! Up next is my three-part series on your preschooler's creativity ...
Inspiration/Photo credit goes to MichaelMaggs image of grab-and-go sushi dinners.