American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Fall 2015      EARLY CHILDHOOD

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Using Messy Play to Teach Self-Feeding Skills

by Amber Bobnar

Reprinted courtesy of <>

Baby Ivan eats yogurt.From the Editor: For an assortment of reasons, self feeding presents challenges for many young blind children. Mealtimes can become fraught with anxiety for the whole family. In this article, Amber Bobnar shares how she broke the cycle of stress by incorporating food into playtime with her son, Ivan. This article can be found at <>.

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.

We do our best at every meal and snack time, and of course his teachers and therapists work on feeding at school, too. It's hard work for everyone, and we all get frustrated now and then. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that Ivan also has difficulty keeping his weight up, so long, drawn-out mealtimes with little to no calorie intake aren't a good thing! How can we work on his feeding skills while making sure he's getting enough to eat? How can we do both? 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, where I have found 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. I was surprised to find that his fine motor skills are actually better during sensory playtime than they are at mealtime! Why would that be the case? Well, maybe it's because at playtime 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, and shaving cream bins, but it was hard to keep Ivan from putting everything in his mouth. And that's when the lightbulb went on--if he's trying to eat this stuff, why not give him things he can actually eat? So we started playing with things such as:

Our favorite so far has to be mashed potato flakes!

We fill a Tupperware bin with mashed potato flakes, and Ivan runs his hands through them. 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. We get our hands into it and feel how the dry flakes turn squishy when wet. We notice 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, such as a spatula, a small whisk, and spoons in various sizes, 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 himself!

We're still working on getting his playtime skills to translate to mealtime skills, but I think this is a great start--plus he's having fun!

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