Children learn new words best in their context. Shopping for, preparing, cooking and eating food are all great activities for introducing vocabulary. They provide lots of opportunities to reinforce the learning of new words.
Meal times should be enjoyable and sociable so are a great time to talk! It’s an ideal time to introduce new vocabulary as you explore different foods and their shapes, colours, taste and texture.
Here are some ideas to get you started!
Make a fruit salad
Making a fruit salad is an excellent language activity. You can name the fruit, name the colour and describe the size, shape and texture. Talk about all the actions like peeling, chopping, cutting and slicing. Peeling a banana or an orange, cutting an apple into slices or grapes in half.
Then when you eat the delicious fruit salad you can talk about all the individual ingredients again - how you prepared them, their same and different colours, how they feel in your mouth and what they taste like. Talk about it as you do it!
Baking and cooking
Cooking and baking are lovely activities for naming ingredients but also for all the action words you can introduce. Mixing, stirring, pouring, cutting and many more. Action words are easier for a child to learn if they can participate – ‘mixing’ ingredients in a bowl or ‘pouring’ water from a jug. Don’t forget to name the spoons, bowls and jugs. It gives these words a contextual meaning which makes them easier to remember.
Songs and rhymes
When you have introduced a new food or concept such as taste or texture another good way to reinforce the learning of these new words is to find a story on the same topic – baking cakes or even going on a picnic. Can you find a song or rhyme or a picture book that links to your food in some way? This gives you another opportunity to reinforce new vocabulary with the children.
Food sound play
Soundplay can be introduced at any time. You can help children to learn the sound pattern of a word by clapping out the syllables as say it and then encourage the children to join in. They might enjoy stamping out too – especially when you do this outside!
Depending on the age of the child some words may be tricky. A child may say ‘take’ instead of ‘cake’ or sometimes miss out a syllable - ‘nana’ for ‘banana’ or ‘mato’ for ‘tomato’. When this happens don’t ask the child to say it again, or to copy you, just let them hear the correct pronunciation of the word. For example, ‘Yes, yellow banana’.
What sound does the item start with? ‘Banana’ starts with /b/ - can you think of anything else that starts with /b/? What about ‘broccoli’ or ‘buns’!
Can you think of a word that rhymes with cake? How about a ‘snake’ who likes to ‘bake’!
Encouraging children to share food – to pass snacks round and take one or two pieces each is a good way to encourage turn taking which is a key skill for successful conversations.
Sharing food also gives you a way in to explore the words associated with feelings – do they like sharing a delicious carrot cake? Do they like the taste? Do they have a favourite food?
Out and about
Shopping – this can be a real or role-play activity! What are you going to make or eat? Start with a shopping list. You can write this and/or add pictures for the different items. Choose your bags or a basket and off you go!
In the summer picnics are lovely – again real or role play. You can decide who to invite, what you are going to eat and where the picnic is going to be. Lovely activity to practice those tricky ‘wh’ questions – ‘who?’, ‘what?’ and ‘where?’ Pack up your picnic and off you go!
Talk about food!
Children need to hear new words about twelve times in order to learn them so you should enjoy every opportunity each day to talk about food. Do you take advantage of them all?
- Breakfast, snack time, lunch and tea
- Pretend play – shopping, a café, a farm, kitchen are all settings that let you introduce and talk about different aspects of food
- Growing cress, or if you have space some pots or a flowerbed where you can grow a few vegetables or herbs
- A trip to a shop a market or some allotments
- A picnic or a celebration treat
- Enjoy rhymes, songs and stories about food and cooking
Whatever you do make sure you have fun talking about food!
Anne Ayre is a speech and language therapist. She has over 20 years of experience as a lecturer, researcher, author and consultant. Her role in national projects for the Department of Education and The Communication Trust highlighted the need for additional evidence based resources that practitioners and parents can use with confidence, to support the speech and language development of all children.
Anne works closely with parents, practitioners - and children too! She is passionate about creating books and resources that are above all fun, yet expertly crafted to support the development of all children’s speech, language and early literacy skills.