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Study Suggests Messy Children Can Learn Better

Update Date: Dec 02, 2013 09:35 AM EST

Parents with young children know that cleaning up messes, especially after a meal, is almost a given. When toddlers learn how to feed themselves, they are bound to spill here and there. Despite how messy a table setting might get, a new study is reporting that young children who are allowed to make a mess while eating might be able to learn better than children who are taught to be clean. The research team reported that learning while sitting in a high chair was the best scenario for messy children.

For this study, the research team headed by Dr. Larissa Samuelson recruited 72 young children who were all aged 16-months. The children were given 14 different non-solid products that were mostly food. The researchers selected items that would be easy to throw, spread or eat. Some of the foods were apple sauce, ketchup, jelly, soup and juice. The team assigned each item with a made up name that contained one syllable. The team also asked children to arrange the products based on their sizes and shapes. All of the children were given toys as a reward for participating.

The researchers discovered that children who interacted with the food items the most were more likely to be able to identify them by their made up names. These children were also more likely to identify the texture of the food. The team reasoned that by allowing children to play with their food, the children end up learning about what they are playing with. The combination of the environment and the children's behaviors helps them build a larger vocabulary.

"It may look like your child is playing in the high chair, throwing things on the ground, and they may be doing that, but they are getting information out of those actions. And, it turns out, they can use that information later," stated an expert in child learning and psychology, Samuelson from the University of Iowa. "It turns out that being in a high chair makes it more likely you'll get messy, because kids know they can get messy there."

The study was published in the journal, Developmental Science.

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