Tag Archives: toddler utensils

OXO for Kids: Great Tableware For Older Kids With Sensory and Motor Issues

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Does your child knock over her milk on a daily basis?  Do utensils seem to fly out of your son’s hands?  I treat kids with hypermobility, coordination and praxis issues, sensory discrimination limitations, etc.; they can all benefit from this terrific line of cups, dinnerware and utensils.

Yes, OXO, the same people that sell you measuring cups and mixing bowls: they have a line of children’s products.  Their baby and toddler items are great, but no 9 year-old wants to eat out of a “baby plate”.

OXO’s items for older kids don’t look or feel infantile.   The simple lines hide the great features that make them so useful to children with challenges:

  1. The plates and bowls have non-slip bases.  Those little nudges that have other dinnerware flipping over aren’t going to tip these items over so easily.
  2. The cups have a colorful grippy band that helps little hands hold on, and the strong visual cue helps kids place their hands in the right spot for maximal control.
  3. The utensils have a larger handle to provide more tactile, proprioceptive and kinesthetic input while eating.  Don’t know what that is?  Don’t worry!  It means that your child gets more multi-sensory information about what is in her hand so that it stays in her hand.
  4. The dinnerware and the cups can handle being dropped, but they have a bit more weight (thus more sensory feedback) than a paper plate/cup or thin plastic novelty items.
  5. There is nothing about this line that screams “adaptive equipment”.  Older kids are often very sensitive to being labeled as different, but they may need the benefits of good universal design.  Here it is!
  6. All of them are dishwasher-safe.  If you have a child with special needs, you really don’t want to be hand-washing dinnerware if you don’t have to.

For more information about mealtime strategies, please take a look at Which Spoon Is Best To Teach Grown-Up Grasp? and Teach Spoon Grip By Making It Fun And Sharing a Laugh With Your Child.

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Teaching Children To Use Utensils to Eat: Use Good Tools, Good Food, and Good Timing

 

ksenia-makagonova-274699I gave a crash course in utensil instruction to an interested dad recently.  Speaking with him, answering his questions, made me realize that I had spent years refining my approach to teaching young children how to use spoons and forks.  I had never written it all down.

Select your tools carefully.  Many parents and nannies are handing over the narrow, long-handled infant spoons to their toddler.  That would be like me providing you with my spatula.  Take a look at  Which Spoon Is Best To Teach Grown-Up Grasp?  for the best design choices for older kids.  The blue spoon in the photo line-up is a great toddler/beginner spoon.  This Gerber spoon has a non-slip handle with dots on the surface where a young child should place their palm.  Yes, toddlers use a fisted grasp.  The bowl of the spoon is not too shallow and not too large.  The handle is thick and just long enough for a toddler palm.  Why not use a plastic disposable spoon?  All of the above features are missing, plus the light weight doesn’t provide the sensory input that helps children feel what their hand and arm are doing while they scoop and place the spoon into their mouth. Those plastic spoons say they are disposable, and that is what you should do when you are done with them.  Take a look at OXO for Kids: Great Tableware For Older Kids With Sensory and Motor Issues for more ideas on great tableware.

Where you hold their spoon determines where they hold their spoon.  Guiding their beginning attempts at scooping and their attempts to bring a loaded spoon to their lips usually involves your physical assistance.  Some parents opt for what teachers would call “hand-over-hand” assistance.  I use that type of assist sparingly, since most young children resist it.  In my opinion, they resist it because they do not understand why you are gripping their hand.  I opt for holding the spoon, not the child.  If they aren’t actively bringing the spoon to their mouth, neither am I.  No fights.  If you hold the handle in the middle, a child will grasp the part of the handle that is available:  the tip.   Children naturally reach for the tip, they often pick up a utensil at that spot when the spoon is resting on the table. That is, however, not a functional grasp, and even an adult wouldn’t be able to successfully load a spoon with food and eat with that grasp.

Place your hand so that it covers the tip of the handle, at the end.  If your child is old enough to try to feel herself, she will reach for the shaft of the handle, not the food in the bowl part of the spoon.  Her hand is now in the right spot start eating!

Choose food that sticks to the spoon.  The dad that I mentioned in the beginning had given his son some thick ricotta-like cheese for breakfast.  Perfect.  Even when the child tipped the spoon upside down, the cheese stuck to the spoon.  There are other choices that make learning successful and less frustrating.  I am thinking of mashed avocado, mashed potatoes, especially sweet potato or yams, very thick Greek yogurt, and the old favorite, oatmeal.  The worst choices?  Peas, unless mashed, rice, and pasta.  Having your food roll away is just so discouraging.

Use a plate or a bowl?  Suction cup base or not?  I prefer a shallow bowl, so that scooping can be done against the sides of the bowl and the angle of the spoon is small.  The hardest set-up?  Scooping out of a deep cup like a yogurt cup.  Some parents buy bowls with a suction cup base.  For super-curious children, this is catnip.  They have to figure out why the bowl isn’t moving.  Inevitably it does, right to the floor.  My favorite hack is a damp paper towel under the bowl.  Grips the bowl, but not fully, is familiar enough to prevent at least some exploration, and you can use it to clean up when the meal is done.  Take a look at OXO for Kids: Great Tableware For Older Kids With Sensory and Motor Issues for an attractive line of dinnerware and utensils that don’t break and don’t look like “equipment” but function as well as therapeutic tools.

The first 3-7 bites are key.  I suggest to parents that they prompt for spoon use when a child is eager to eat, but the first bites are provided.  Some children are so hungry that having to work to get a bit of food makes them angry.  If they have a little taste, they are willing to work on scooping to get more.  After about 7 bites, a lot of children aren’t that hungry any longer.  The ones with small appetites will stop making an effort.  The ones who are resistant to using a spoon will wait for you to feed them.  That isn’t a terrible solution for very young children, as long as you got some cooperation and practice in while they were still hungry.  After all, there are more meals coming. 

Consistency between all caregivers.  If parents, the nanny and the other caregivers know the plan, simple as it is, learning comes faster.  Make the effort to explain and even demonstrate.  Children do not appreciate different strategies.  They default to “no”.

Make it fun.  My post on fun ways to practice utensil use, Teach Spoon Grip By Making It Fun And Sharing a Laugh With Your Child, gets a lot of hits because everyone wants to have fun, no one wants to “work”.  Me too, which is why OTs generally use toys and play to build skills.  Here is a new post for those children that are read to try knife use: How to Teach Your Child to Cut Food With a Knife…Safely!

Good luck, and have some fun at the table today!

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How Using Utensils To Eat Prepares Your Child To Write

My post on selecting great utensils has generated buzz with my clients.  When I mentioned in therapy sessions that every time a preschooler uses a fork or spoon with a mature grasp, they are building the strength and control needed for good handwriting, parent’s jaws hit the floor.  It never occurred to them that there is a connection. Time to explain.

A bit of history:  there was a time when preschoolers used utensils early during meals.  Perhaps as recently as 35 years ago, it was a land free of meats in nugget form and al dente vegetables with dipping sauces.  Forks and spoons were used for every meal, and fingers were rarely used for many breakfast and dinner foods.  “Table manners” were taught, and they included how to use utensils.

Life is now more casual and lived at a faster pace.  We eat in our cars, while talking on the phone, and our kids sometimes don’t even want to sit to eat.  They circle back to the table to have us pop a morsel into their mouth before going back to play.  Lifestyles have changed, but the need for finger dexterity and strength has not changed one bit.  If you have a 4 year-old who avoids coloring, has no interest in writing, and doesn’t want to use utensils, you have a child that can lag behind his peers in handwriting due to lack of fine motor skills.  He has missed out on years of useful fine motor practice that his teachers expect to capitalize on at 4.5  and up for handwriting instruction.  Teachers do not expect to do remediation for fine motor delays, they want to teach.  Since kids lose opportunities for fine motor development while they use tablets and push-button toys, utensil skills are a practical way to support good early fine motor skills.

The wrist control, finger isolation and grading of movement and force that goes into holding a utensil in a mature pattern (thumb on top, fingers in a gentle curved arc under the handle shaft, end of the handle visible resting on the large knuckle of the index finger) is a great way to develop those pre-writing skills.  Stabilizing the plate or bowl while eating develops into “helper hand” stabilization of paper while writing.  Scooping, piercing food with a fork, and even beginning cutting with a bread knife improve bilateral control and the ability to coordinate eye-hand control with accuracy, speed and endurance.  A lot of skill goes into feeding yourself a bowl of cereal or a plate of pasta.  Is your child still feeding herself only with her fingers?  That is a 12-month skill, my friends. Time to raise her game.

My previous post Which Spoon Is Best To Teach Grown-Up Grasp?showed you a great handle style that has kid-friendly characters and is well-designed for easier grip and independent placement.  If you have to keep helping your child put their fingers in the right spot, it isn’t independence.  Take a look at that post for fun ways to build skills without your child even catching on that they are practicing!

UPDATE:  One of my almost-4’s has been using these utensils for 2 weeks.  He has not been able to put a crayon in his hand correctly all year, no matter how much we practice, demonstrate or reward.  Yesterday we played a game with my spoon, and he handled it perfectly.  Then it was time to use the iPad stylus for a pre-writing game.  I placed the stylus on the floor and turned my back to set up the app.  I turned around and he asked “Did I get it right?”  His fingers were in a perfect tripod position, ready to go!!!!