Who says that mealtime always has to focus on what’s on our plates? Sure, we want our kids to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, but mealtime can be more than just a time to refuel. Consider taking the emphasis off of eating once in awhile and instead look around your breakfast, lunch, or dinner table for opportunities to sneak in a little bit of learning.
Use any and all food packaging to talk with kids about letters, words, rhymes, and sounds. At breakfast time, use cereal boxes, milk, and juice cartons as your platform for learning. Lunchtime’s juice-box cartons and snack packs are perfect for playing with language, and you can use the decorations around your dining room or even packaging from foods like pasta, tacos, or sauces at dinnertime.
Take a minute at mealtime to talk about letters:
- Work with your child to hunt for all of the letters of his name. Begin with the first letter, and work toward finding all of them.
- Have him count all of the times he sees “his letter,” the first letter of his name.
- Ask him to point to all of the times he can locate “his letter” in both uppercase and lowercase.
- Together, identify the first letter of everyone in your family’s name.
Go on an Alphabet Hunt with your child — give everyone her own cereal box and say, “Everyone look at their own cereal box. Let's say the alphabet together and hunt for each letter on our boxes. Who can find a letter 'A'?” Then find B, C, D, etc.
You can also chat about words and sounds:
- Read a simple word and play with it for awhile. Say, “We’re eating Pops. ‘Pops’ begins with letter ‘P.’ Here is the word ‘Pops.’ What other words can we find on the box that also begin with the letter ‘P’?”
- Talk about the words that rhyme with the words on the package: “How many words can we think of that rhyme with the word ‘pops’?”
- Examine the beginning sounds of words: “'Honey' begins with the 'h-' sound. What letter makes the 'h-' sound? Who can find the word 'honey' on this box?”
- Look at the ending sounds of words too: “'Corn' starts with the letter 'C'. What sound do you hear at the end of 'corn'? Think about the letters that begin and end the word 'corn,' and let's try to find it on this box.”
Early learners love compound words: “Who can find the two hidden words in 'low-fat' on our milk carton?”
Don’t forget about math learning and number recognition:
- Count the number of times key words like “new,” “healthy,” or “kids” appear on boxes.
- Hunt for ages: “Owen is 4 and Maddy is 6 years old. Who can find numbers four or six on their boxes?”
Work together to find numbers one to ten on your boxes. The numbers on the nutrition information section are tiny, but little eyes are pretty strong!
Not every day, not every other day, but a few times a week, playing some reading games at mealtime keeps learning natural, easy, and fun.