Mealtime with a young child can be trying for parents, teachers, caregivers and children! Children can be passionate about what they love to eat and what they dislike. In fact, mealtime can be dreadful for parents and other adults in a child’s life if the child will not eat what has been made or will only eat a certain item…..often for weeks at a time!!! Games are a fun and quick way to help get a young child engaged in trying different foods that they might initially be reluctant to eat. With little effort, mealtime can become a simple math game that can help children experience new foods and develop counting and mental math skills at the same time.
One strategy involves the parent or caregiver making a daily mealtime chart and marking or logging whether the child ate their meal or tried a new item; the child should be a part of this process. The chart can state the date and the number or tally mark indicating that a meal was completed that day. If a new food item was tried, that item can be logged as well. A parent or teacher can create this chart with the young child, explaining that each time they eat their meal or try a new item they will receive a mark on their meal chart. The parent can incentivize the child by including an end reward if that is a factor they want to include.
At mealtime you can have the child mark their chart and ask them “How many marks do you have today?” You can assist the child in counting the tally marks. Then, once the child states the number you can ask “If you try a new food item tomorrow, how many will you have then?” This requires the child to mentally count or add on, which is a more complex mathematical skill than simple one to one correspondence. For example, if the current tally is 5, when the young child eats a meal the next day the number would be 6. Once the numbers begin to increase the parent or caregiver can state, “You have 6 meals, if you add one more meal how many meals will you have eaten?” This statement is slightly more complex then the first, because now the child is being challenged with the concept of adding on.
Creating this chart, using it daily, then analyzing the data can be fun for young children because they have been involved in the process of creating the chart/game. This can help make mealtime an enjoyable part of their day. This mealtime game can be played at any time and any where eating takes place. It can be used for snack, dinner, lunch or even drinking water. Children tend to become more intrigued and engaged if they are involved in creating their learning tools. Mealtime can now become fun and exciting while learning!