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How To Make Your Toddler An Expert At The Spoon And Fork

flickr / Jessica Lucia

Giving your toddler a fork or spoon is like giving a paint brush to Jackson Pollock. It’s extraordinarily fun to watch them use it, but it’s incredibly messy. The similarities break down a bit when you realize there’s simply no way you’ll ever be able to unload your oatmeal covered wall for several million dollars. Unless you know some very strange collectors. In which case, congratulations!

And while you could simply give your toddler a spoon and a bowl of mush and sit back for the shenanigans, there is a much more measured method to get your kid using utensils in a less modern-arty way.

Start Early

It’s quite likely your kid is already familiar with the utensil game. After all, you were probably making airplane noises before they were able to eat solid food. So a spoon shouldn’t be anything too new to them. Though there could be some confusion when they find out they have to supply their own propeller sounds.

The trick is transitioning the spoon (and you do want to start with a spoon) from your hand to theirs. For the most part this can start happening around the time they’ve figured out finger foods. That’s because the foundation for utensil use is the concept of moving food from table to mouth. It’s also about having a strong pincer grasp. This can happen as young as 6 months old.

Choose Your Tools

There are a couple things you’re going to want to make this happen: a couple good spoons and some non-slip “dishes” to keep the food on top of the table, rather than under it.

The spoons should be small enough to fit in your kid’s mouth. They should also be fairly easy to grip and light enough to be hefted without much effort. Though keep in mind that effortless hefting can translate to “flinging.”

Look for dishes that have sticky silicone bottoms. Or you can go as far as picking out dinning gear complete with suction cups to make double sure nothing’s moving but the food. And this probably doesn’t need to be said, but avoid those phthalates while you’re at it.

Head To Chow Town

The best thing about teaching your kid about learning to eat with utensils is that they have 3 times a day to practice. And you have 3 times a day to experience the joys of being a yogurt target. Here’s how you’re going to get this done.

The Food

The key here is to not go with anything too runny (soups) or roll-y (peas). You want to practice with food that’s able to stick pretty well to a spoon. Think along the lines of foods the consistency of pudding and oatmeal.

Hand Over Hand

The the initial spoon training is pretty hands on, literally. When they get the spoon in their hands you’ll want to put yours over theirs. Then, help them scoop up food from their bowl and guide it to their mouth. You might have to do this a few times before they get the hang of it. Kinda like how you got to know the beer bong.

Poppa Two Spoons

Once your kid has their own spoon and bowl, they may spend more time getting food everywhere but their mouth. That’s totally normal. So as they work to come to an understanding with the spoon, you’re going to swoop in with grub from your own bowl and spoon from time to time. That way, you can be sure something is actually getting inside of them.

As they get better with their dexterity and mouth aim, you’ll be able to put the second spoon and bowl away. Like all the way away. Not in the sink because that drives your partner crazy.

Fork It Over

Once your kid is slinging that spoon like a master, it’s time for the fork to be with them. The process will be a bit easier, but will require changing up the foodstuffs. You’ll be looking for stab-able vittles here. Chunks of chicken nuggets work well. Round things that can easily escape will just lead to frustration.

Final Tips

Think about Jackson Pollock again. Understand that this process of learning to feed is going to get freakishly messy. You have got to be cool with that — and if you’re not, life is going to suck pretty hard for awhile.

But you have to remember that squishing and launching food is all a part of your little genius figuring out how stuff works. Make it fun. Then look for that wall food collector to make it lucrative.