Using Messy Play to Teach Self Feeding Skills

messy play

My son, Ivan, is nine years old and we are still working on teaching him how to feed himself. He’s visually impaired, but he also has muscle tone and coordination issues that make holding a spoon or picking up a cheerio difficult.

So we do our best at every meal and snack time and of course his teachers and therapists work on this at school, too.

But it’s hard work for everyone and we all get frustrated now and then. Exacerbating the problem is that Ivan also has difficulty keeping his weight up, so long drawn out meal times with little to no calorie intake aren’t a good thing! How can we do both? How can we work on his feeding skills while also making sure he’s getting enough to eat?

(By the way, you can find out more about how to maintain a high calorie diet for kids with similar weight issues.)

stirring the potatoes

Recently I found a possible solution, or at least a tool to add to our tool belt: Messy play!

I’m a huge fan of Pinterest and there are so many sensory play ideas that are easily adapted for kids with visual impairments. It’s inspired me to try more sensory and messy play activities with Ivan and I was surprised to find that his fine motor skills are actually better during sensory play time than they are at meal time!

Why would that be? Well, maybe because there’s no pressure. We’re just playing! No one is worried about his calorie intake and we’re not “working on a skill.” We’re also not sitting at the dining room table, so everything just feels different.

We started with the traditional play-doh, sand or shaving cream bins, but it was hard to keep Ivan from putting everything in his mouth. And that’s when the light bulb went off… if he’s actually trying to eat this stuff, why not give him things he can eat?

So we started playing with things like:

  • Jello
  • Whipped cream
  • Frosting
  • Cooked rice

But our favorite so far has to be mashed potato flakes!

eating the potatoes

We fill a tupperware bin with mashed potato flakes and Ivan runs his hands through the flakes. Then I have him help me add warm water and stir. We can add salt, melted butter, pepper, onion powder… whatever smells good!

I don’t call this cooking and I don’t encourage Ivan to eat. This is purely a messy play game so we get our hands in it and feel how the dry flakes turn squishy when wet or how the mashed potatoes smell different when we add the onion powder.

The best part is that I also bring out a bunch of different utensils from the kitchen (like a spatula, a small whisk, spoons in different sizes etc) and let Ivan “play” with them too. And you know what? He actually starts eating the mashed potatoes off the utensils! Now, don’t tell him this, but I think that counts as feeding yourself!

We’re still working on getting his play time skills to translate to meal time skills, but I think this is a great start plus he’s having fun!


Using Messy Play to Teach Self Feeding Skills


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