As a Speech Pathologist, I teach parents to try and incorporate at least 45-minutes of play-time into their daily routine with their child to facilitate language learning. While this can happen in chunks of time throughout the day, there has been a recent study showing that feedings/meal times are a great time to use language strategies and address language goals as well. We feed our children at least 3-times a day which gives us plenty of time for meaningful dialogue. The study found that caregivers naturally make more attention-directing statements (“Look at this bear! Can you see it?”) during solid feeding compared to adult-directed speech (“This book is about a bear”). Additionally, caregivers’ type-token ratios (the ratio of the number of different words used to total a number of words used) are higher during feeding than even in play.
As parents, we naturally change our speech characteristics and vary our prosody during feeding infants and young children. So inserting intentional speech and language should be a relatively easy tweak to this time with our kids. Need ideas? Try telling your child their birth story, stories of you as a child, read them books during the meal, describe scenes, tell them how to play with toys, describe what food looks and tastes like or how you made it and all of the ingredients you used, tell them about the things you did today or recap your child’s activities that day. Start a conversation and fill it with a variety of languages! Even if your child is too young to truly understand the words your using, they are taking it all in and learning A LOT. Most maternal speech patterns naturally vary in prosody, pitch, and intonation and many parents use motherese/parentese (infant-directed speech with shorter phrases, simpler grammar, repetitions, slower speech, higher/exaggerated pitch, etc). This isn’t an accident. These speech patterns naturally support a baby’s language learning. By combining this “baby talk” with intentional, meaningful input during a time when you’re already predisposed to use language that best supports your child’s development… your family mealtimes will become mini-speech therapy sessions in no time!
Zimmerman, E., Connaghan, K., Hoover, J., Alu, D., & Peters, J. (2019) Is feeding the new play? Examination of the maternal language and prosody used during infant-directed speech. Infant Behavior and Development. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2019.01.005