Pediatrics in the News- Kids Playing with Food and Babies’ Self-awareness

I wanted to highlight 2 recent articles about pediatrics and play that I found interesting and helpful.

The first: Messy Kids Who Play With Their Food May Be Faster Learners, Study Says

Highlights from the article:baby playing with food

According to a new study out of the University of Iowa, kids who smoosh, smash and even throw their food are actually learning as they play with their meals. The study also suggests that these messy eaters may be better and faster learners in the long run.

Published this week in the journal Developmental Science, the study looked at how a group of 72 toddlers learned to identify nonsolid objects like oatmeal, applesauce and milk. The researchers found that the children who, quite literally, got their hands dirty playing and messing with each substance tended to learn words associated with these goopy items more quickly than those who didn’t.

As the study points out, previous research has shown that toddlers can identify solid objects, like cup and apple, more readily due to their unchanging size and shape. Mushy, gooey and liquid substances, on the other hand, often prove to be a bit more tricky.

In the end, the children who interacted most with the foods by poking, throwing, feeling or eating them were most likely to correctly name and identify them by their texture, researchers said.

Sitting in a high chair also appeared to help the learning process. Kids who were placed in high chairs tended to learn the substances better than those who sat at a table. “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,” said UI associate professor Larissa Samuelson, who oversaw the study.

I thought those last 2 paragraphs made 2 good points.

  1. Kids learn more when playing with an object that can be interacted with in a variety of ways (ie poking, smashing, squeezing) vs a solid object that can mostly be banged against an object, squeezed, or mouthed but never changes shape.
  2. Placing a child in a familiar environment helps facilitate learning.  This is a good point for any therapist, if you are trying to work on a new skill, try to use a familiar environment where the child is comfortable so that you can take away at least 1 distracting factor.

The second: Babies Have Self-Awareness From The Minute They’re Born (STUDY)

Highlights from the article:

… new research finds that from the minute they are born, babies are well aware of their own bodies.baby looking in mirror

Body awareness is an important skill for distinguishing the self from others, and failure to develop body awareness may be a component of some disorders such as autism. But little research has been done to find out when humans start to understand that their body is their own.

To determine babies’ awareness of their bodies, the researchers took a page from studies on adults. In a famous illusion, people can be convinced that a rubber hand is their own if they see the hand stroked while their own hand, hidden from view, is simultaneously stroked.

To find out if the same is true of babies, Filippetti and her colleagues tested 40 newborns who were between 12 hours and four days old. The babies sat on the experimenter’s lap in front of a screen. On-screen, a video showed a baby’s face being stroked by a paintbrush. The researcher either stroked the baby’s face with a brush in tandem with the stroking shown on the screen, or delayed the stroking by five seconds.

Next, the babies saw the same video but flipped upside down. Again, the researcher stroked the infants’ faces in tandem with the upside-down image or delayed the stroking by three seconds.

The researchers found that babies looked the longest at the screen when the stroking matched what they felt on their own faces. This was true only of the right-side-up images; infants didn’t seem to associate the flipped faces with their own. [See video of the baby experiment]

The findings suggest that babies are born with the basic mechanisms they need to build body awareness

“These findings have important implications for our understanding of body perception throughout development,” Filippetti said. Perhaps more important, she added, becoming more knowledgeable about normal development may help scientists better understand autism and related disorders. Autism research frequently focuses on abnormalities in social development, Filippetti said, but less is known about how children with autism perceive the self.

Some interesting points I saw in this article:

  1. Sensory input is important to facilitate self-awareness
  2. Babies are apparently more aware of their surroundings and bodies than we think they are when they are as young as a few hours old!
  3. I wonder if they have tried this study using proprioceptive input- meaning moving a part of the baby around like clapping their hands for them vs stroking their face, if they would have looked longer at a similar video.  I also wonder how can we use this test and adapt it to kiddos with visual impairments to assess their level of self awareness.
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