Positive Relationships: Home Learning - Cause a stir!

Alice Sharp
Friday, March 8, 2013

Spoons can be a stimulating resource, with a little bit of imagination, says Alice Sharp.

Parents are often seduced into buying limiting and expensive toys for their children when a collection of spoons is often a much better learning resource. Time for you to make the case for the simplest of utensils offering the best of learning opportunities for under-threes, and to make the most of them in the nursery.


  • Every baby is born with a natural curiosity. Under-threes are eager to find out all they can about the world around them. They are excited by voices, faces, movement, scents, in fact, anything and everything that stimulates their senses, even an old wooden spoon!
  • Under-threes have limited understanding of how the world works but are open to any appropriate challenges to explore and learn and are highly motivated to become active and to interact with the objects, texture, scents, sounds and sights around them.
  • This age group is particularly reliant on their parents to offer them opportunities to explore and investigate in a safe, intriguing environment that stimulates their active bodies and minds.
  • Even the simplest of interactions provide opportunities to help under-threes develop and learn.
  • Exploring and manipulating different textures and materials helps to develop children's co-ordination, visual awareness and spatial thinking, as well as opening up opportunities for language learning and mathematical thinking.
  • Suggest parents keep one or two feeding spoons for use at mealtimes only so that their child becomes familiar with them.


Create a collection of spoons for children to use in the nursery. You could also create collections for parents to borrow to use the ideas opposite.

Try to be creative as possible in putting together your collection. Check out the likes of www.amazon.co.uk for ideas. For example, see Kitchen Craft Colourworks Munchkin Mighty Grip Fork and Spoons by Lindam (£2.49) or the 10 Piece Measuring Cup and Spoon Set from DSD (£5.99), and then there's the Big Bargain Tadpole Tea Spoon Strainer from the Big Bargain Store (£1.66).

Check that all products are safe for babies or toddlers to use.

When considering the quality of objects to combine with your spoon collection ask yourself, will they:

  • help to develop children's fine motor skills by offering lots of opportunities for picking up, handling, mixing, banging, scrunching, etc?
  • stimulate all the senses?
  • provide challenge?
  • be of interest to babies and toddlers?
  • prove eye-catching and engaging?
  • provide choice, by enabling the baby to engage with the objects in a variety of different ways?
  • be appealing or curious enough to offer potential for creative use?

Also take time to present the resources in an appealing way - stimulating a sense of awe and wonder should never be undervalued!


Spoons can be used in children's treasure basket, heuristic and messy play (see 'Recommended Reading'). For other activity ideas see the parent's guide on the following page.

Other suggestions include:

This is the way

Place your collection of spoons on a tray and make up your own verses to a traditional rhyme. For example:

This is the way we use our spoon, use our spoon, use our spoon.

This is the way we use our spoon on a cold and frosty morning.

Other suggestions are: 'eat with a spoon', 'tap the spoon', 'wipe the spoon', 'lick the spoon'.

In the balance

Provide some spoons and balls that fit nicely in the 'bowl' of the spoons. Transfer a ball from one spoon to another and encourage a child to join in. Repeat a few times as the child gets more confident, then adapt to provide variety and challenge. For example, ask the child if they can stand up/walk quickly/turn on the spot/bend without dropping the ball.

Picnic time

Suggest organising a picnic for three or four teddies and soft toys. Let the child help you lay out a 'rug' (towel or pillowcase), spoons and small bowls, then round up the 'friends'. Ask the child to name and describe the toys and explain where they were found.

Suggest checking that all 'friends' have a spoon and bowl each. Next place on the picnic 'rug' two bowls of cereal (ideally, different kinds) and say it's time to share out the food. Lend a hand if necessary, while the child spoons the cereals into the bowls.




Positive Relationships: Home Learning - A parent's guide to ... spoons

Head for the cutlery drawer, for the humble spoon is as good a learning aid as anything you'll find in the toy shops for your baby or toddler.


Children under the age of three use their senses - seeing, touching, tasting, smelling and hearing - to find out about the world around them. So, banging, touching and 'tasting' spoons gives children from three months old an early lesson in textures and materials as well as helping to develop their visual awareness. Metal, they'll discover, is cold and hard, wood is warmer and lighter, while rubber can feel softer and be brightly coloured.

By the toddler stage, your child will be able to use spoons in many more playful ways and with that will come extra fun and learning, as our suggestions below will show. Playing with spoons also benefits children's physical development.


Gather together a collection of spoons. The more varied the collection, the more play and learning should flow from it. Try to provide spoons of different:

  • sizes
  • materials
  • colours
  • designs
  • purposes (spaghetti servers, Chinese soup ladles, measuring spoons, slotted spoons, etc), and decorative spoons. Check that all are safe for your baby or toddler to use.


One by one

  • Place the spoons on the floor and encourage your child to explore them. As your child plays, name the kind of spoon they pick ('That's a teaspoon!'), emphasise what they do with it (Oh, you've dropped it!) and describe it ('It's really little and shiny, isn't it?'). This will support your child's awareness of naming words, doing words and descriptive words.
  • Sit beside your child, start placing all the wooden ones together and invite them to help you. Then create another set, perhaps metal. Place two identical spoons next to each other, then alternate the types of spoon (plastic, metal, plastic, metal). Sorting, pairing, matching and sequencing spoons all helps to develop mathematical thinking.

Reach out

Place a spoon beyond your baby's reach and leave the spoon even further away once your baby is at the crawling stage. You could also place some spoons around your child to encourage them to bend and turn. This will provide practice in stretching, grasping and crawling - all good for developing physical skills and hand-eye co-ordination.

Rhyme time

Share with your child the traditional rhyme:

'Heh, diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle,

The cow jumped over the moon,

The little dog laughed to hear such fun,

And the dish run away with the spoon.'

To make the telling more fun, paint a face on a wooden spoon and use animals toys as props. Tap out the rhythm with a spoon as you share the rhyme - and other songs - with your child. Rhymes help children's language development, while being aware of rhythm will help your baby learn to listen, to talk and, when they're older, to learn about numbers.

There are even storybooks about the rhyme. One that a two-year-old might enjoy is The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon by Mini Grey.

In the soup

Place on the floor two pots, two spoons and a small basket of objects (for example, a soft brick, sock, pom-pom, small ball and flower). Try using a spoon to put an object in one of the pots and suggest your toddler tries too.Stir your pot, saying, 'I'm making sock soup!' and ask, 'What kind of soup are you making?' If your child has little language, look low into his pot and exclaim, 'Flower soup ... Oh, yum!' Keep adding items to the pot and encourage your child to do the same and to name the different objects. Engaging in 'conversation' in this way will help your baby or toddler's language development.

More ideas

  • Provide sand, water, bubbles or other mixtures like cornflour mixed with water for your child to scoop and stir. Add some slotted spoons to provide fun with sieving. This all helps your child to understand about different textures and materials.
  • Encourage your toddler to help set the table.
  • Use small wooden spoons as paintbrushes.
  • Look at metal spoons together. Can you see your reflections?

Ask your child's key person at nursery for some more play ideas.

Alice Sharp is managing director of training and resources company, Experiential Play, www.experientialplay.com

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