15 Ways to Learn with Play Food

learning with play food

So you’ve got a little kitchen set for your kiddo.  Here are some ways to learn with all that plastic food (you know, instead of just tripping over it)….

  1. See if your child can name all the pieces of food.
  2. Select food and have a pretend picnic.
  3. Set up a pretend restaurant.  Take turns being the customer and waiter/waitress and cook.
  4. Arrange food in rows and go shopping with a basket.  Pretend to check-out and use real money.
  5. Sort food by color.
  6. Sort food by food group.
  7. Pick out two or more foods that start with the same letter.
  8. Look for shapes.  Which foods are spheres?  Are any flat like a circle?  What about a cylinder?
  9. Find and count certain foods.  How many eggs are there?  How many oranges?
  10. Compare quantities.  Are there more yellow foods or green foods?  How many more lemons than tomatoes?
  11. Use food to represent addition or subtraction problems.  I have four apples, then I give two to you.  How many do I have now?
  12. Play “I’m thinking of a food.”  Use adjectives to describe a piece of food to each other and take turns guessing.
  13. Play a memory game.  Place a few foods in front of your child.  Then have her close her eyes and take a food away.  Ask which one was removed.
  14. Put a food in a sack and see if you can guess what it is just by touch.
  15. Go on a food scavenger hunt.  Write down a list of foods to find (something to eat for breakfast, a vegetable, a food that starts with the letter B, etc.) and then see if your child can find them all!
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Math at the Dinner Table

math at the table

We want the girls to sit at the table until everyone is finished eating (or at least wait for each other).  So after talking about the activities of the day, we get a little creative to keep them in their seats.  And so “dinner math” was born.  There are plenty of things around the table to show math “in the real world” plus they are a captive audience. 🙂  I realize it’s probably not the best table manners to turn dinner time into a math game, so feel free to ignore this if it doesn’t fit with your family.

Some ideas….

Babies

  • Count the pieces of food on her tray.
  • Count the number of bites while you spoon-feed her.
  • Talk about the shapes of the food.
  • Use words to compare amounts such as “There are more banana slices than crackers on your plate.”

Toddler/Preschooler

  • Identify 2D and 3D shapes of the food, plates, cups, and even the table itself.  “Can you find a circle?  How about a cylinder?”
  • Count items on the table.  “How many plates are on the table?  How many forks?”
  • Use items on the table for simple addition problems.  If they are stumped, help them count the items.  “I see two forks and two spoons.  How many pieces of silverware in all?”
  • Compare numbers.  “Do you have more apple slices or carrots on your plate?”

Elementary

  • Use table items or food for addition and subtraction problems.  “How many forks + spoons + bowls are on the table?”
  • Ask problems where you can’t count items on the table to find the answer. “I bought fifteen potatoes and cooked six of them for dinner.  How many are still in the bag?”
  • Skip count using table items.  “Each person has a cup and a plate.  Count by twos to find how many there are in all.”
  • Estimate and count to find out how many.  “How many green beans do you think are on your plate?”
  • Eat in a pattern.  Take a bite of one thing, then two bites of another food, and see if they can continue the pattern!
  • Talk about fractions.  “Please eat at least half of your dinner. ”  🙂
  • Ask random addition, subtraction, or multiplication facts.  But don’t stop there!*

*Some kids love getting quizzed on math facts.  So, if your kids enjoy it- go ahead!  Drill and practice of facts WILL make math easier for them.  But don’t forget to talk about the “why” behind the answer.  Talking about the process of solving a problem helps kids develop logical thinking and better number sense.  They will use those skills as the math gets more complex.  So after you ask “What’s 6 +7?” ask “How did you figure that out?” or How do you know that is the correct answer?”  Usually kids will say, “I just knew it.”  Talk through some ideas like “Well, 6+6=12 and 7 is one more than 6.  So the answer to 6+7 is one more than 12.”  Or maybe you know the fact 7+7=14 so 6+7 is one less.  Or maybe you break apart the 7 into 3+4 and you know 6+4=10, then it is easy to add on 3 more to make 13.  Explaining mathematical thinking will benefit kids even more than memorization.  Besides, what else are you going to do while you wait for them to eat their peas?

CANstruction- Learning with Cans

Our local food pantry, Harvesters, does a yearly competition where businesses build structures out of cans.  Then when the competition is over, all the cans are donated to Harvesters to feed those in need.  The designs are on display at the mall for about a month.

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IMG_4765We got inspired to make our own CANstruction at home!  Can you tell what we made?  (ha- unintentionally pun)

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Did you guess?  It was a giraffe, rainbow, and castle.  Constructing with cans was free, fun, and (bonus!) I had an organized pantry when we were all done.  It would be a great activity for the kids while you put away groceries.  And of course there is all sorts of learning that can be done with cans…

(Common Core Standards appear in italics.  They correlate with specific standards in different grade levels.  These standards are used in almost every school in the country.  Click the Common Core tab above to learn more.)

  • Colors- Talk about the different colors on the cans, then divide them into groups or make a rainbow.
  • Size- Compare sizes of cans.  Find all the cans that are the same size.  What happens when you stack a large can on a small one?
  • Counting– How many cans in all?  Count how many you can stack in a tower.
  • Addition and Subtraction– How many bean cans plus tuna cans do we have? (first grade- Represent and solve problems involving addition and subtraction)
  • Geometry- Talk about 2D vs 3D.  Use the word cylinder.  Point out the circles on top and bottom of a cylinder.   (kindergarten- Identify shapes as two-dimensional or three-dimensional)
  • Measurement–  Measure things around the room with cans.  How many cans long is the couch?  (first grade- Express the length of an object as a whole number of length units, by laying multiple copies of a shorter object end to end)
  • Classification- Sort the cans into groups based on color, size, or type of food.   (kindergarten- Classify objects into given categories; count the numbers of objects in each category and sort the categories by count)
  • Reading– Beginning readers might be able to read some of the labels using the picture as a clue.  If they know it is a can of corn, see if they can pick out the word “corn” on the can.
  • Letters- Try to make letters or even words out of the cans.
  • Creative building– And the most fun, building!

Food Smart

I have an embarrassing confession.  I am not a healthy eater and I don’t even know what most vegetables look like.  As a twentysomething I was eating a salad (a big achievement for me!) and someone commented about my spinach.  WHAT?!  I was eating spinach?!  I honestly thought spinach was yucky, slimy, green stuff in a can.  It never occurred to me that it was a leaf.  Ridiculous.

I am determined for my own girls to grow up healthier and smarter.  Okay.  I’m not going to get all crazy and never go to McDonald’s again.  Trust me.  I still want to eat cheeseburgers.  I just want them to know about other foods, too.

Besides being good for your body, trying all kinds of food also gives you general background knowledge that aids in reading comprehension.  You will understand a lot more about a book about pineapples, for example, if you have a background knowledge of what a pineapple looks like, tastes like, and how it grows.

So what can we do as parents?

1.  Let kids see food in their natural form as much as possible.  Yes, you can buy corn in a can.  But show them what an ear of corn looks like in the grocery store.  Or better yet, look at a corn field.  It seems like common sense…but if you don’t show kids, then they don’t know (ie my spinach story).

2.  Try it!  Make trying new foods part of your routine.  We have a “Try One Bite” rule at our house.  After that bite, everyone is free to say “no thank you” and eat other things on his/her plate.

3.  Grow it!  Kids are much more likely to try something if they have invested their time in growing it.  Start small with a just a seed and a pot or do a whole garden in the backyard.  And check out these garden resources from the USDA:  http://teamnutrition.usda.gov/garden.html

4.  Pick it!  Look for farms where you can pick your own strawberries, blackberries, peaches, apples, etc.  This is a great experience to see how food is grown, harvested, and (if you are ambitious) used in cooking.

4.  Make it a fun game.  Slice up a few different fruits and kids close their eyes and guess which fruits they are tasting.  Or try a few foods and put them into categories of fruits/vegetables or yummy/yucky.

5.  Make it a family goal.  Maybe pick out one new fruit or vegetable each time you go to the grocery store?  After reading Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert we set the goal of eating everything in the book.  As you can imagine, I’ve never even seen most of them.