Using Food for Play with Young Children

Using Food for Play

As a follow up to my post on “Process vs. Product” centered art, I was thinking about using food in art and play with young children.

When I say “using food” I don’t mean having them help cook, exploring different tastes or food based science experiments….that I am all for! Instead, I mean things like a sensory bin full of rice or making potato and apple prints for an art exploration.

When you have infants and young toddlers (who still put a lot in their mouth!) it can give caregivers peace of mind to have safe objects for children to explore. For the very youngest children I am more comfortable with food based items being a first introduction to art and sensory materials. However, as they get older, I have trouble with the idea that food is a plaything and disposable.

For me personally, the main reason is because there are so many people in the world who don’t have enough to eat. The thought of pouring pounds of rice into a bucket and telling kids it is “for play” just doesn’t sit well with me.

Also, the choice of materials can send a message about what food is “important” and what is “for play,” which is not something that an educator who is teaching tolerance would want to have happen.

Finally, blurring the lines between edible and non-edible makes it harder for children to distinguish what is OK to eat and what isn’t, and can make them feel free to waste/play with food that they ARE supposed to be eating.

This is something I come back to as I play with my toddler and teach art and science workshops for young children. There doesn’t feel like a clear cut answer, just a pretty solid opinion.

If you search “Using food for play in early childhood education” you will find a lot of interesting and thoughtful posts on the topic. I would love to hear your opinions and if you have any examples of food being used thoughtfully in play.

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