Whether it happens naturally or not, sooner or later, children will want to feed themselves. Some will express an interest at an early age. They will begin by putting small pieces of food placed on their highchair tray in their mouth. For others, this desire may not appear for quite some time. As is the case with all developmental spheres, developing children's autonomy is important. By the time children start going to school, they must be able to feed themselves independently. In school children will need to be able to use a fork and knife, pour water for themselves and manage their own lunches. Staff will be at hand to support your children, however, we do encourage that your child eats by themselves. Even when children are very young, there are interventions that can help prepare them so that eventually, they will be able to eat independently.
What can you expect at different ages and stages?
6-12 months: Children can hold their bottle and eat tiny pieces of soft foods placed on their highchair tray.
1-2 years old: They can drink from a sippy cup (with a lid, a spout, and two handles). They may begin to use a spoon, but it can be messy.
2-3 years old: They can drink from a glass using a straw without making a mess. They may begin to use a fork to eat.
3-4 years old: They can eat with a fork and use it to prick food items.
4-5 years old: They are somewhat autonomous when it comes to feeding themselves. They can use a pitcher to pour themselves something to drink.
5-6 years old: They can butter their bread as well as cut their vegetables and meat using a knife that isn't too sharp.
Now that you know what is "normal", it is important to mention that you may sometimes have to create situations to encourage children to feed themselves. If you automatically feed children they will not be inclined to express their needs and develop independent eating habits. To help them, you must begin by executing the task for them, then with them, and finally, letting them perform it on their own. With this process, children will progressively learn to feed themselves while respecting their needs and limits.
Beyond that, here are a few simple tricks that will help you teach children to feed themselves.
Of course, you can use games and activities to teach children how to learn to use a spoon, cut food items, or pour from a pitcher. For example, let them use a plastic knife to cut modelling dough, encourage them to fill glasses with water using a pitcher outdoors on a hot summer day, or invite them to "feed" dolls. Through play, children will develop different abilities that can be quite useful during meals. You may even have less messes to clean up...but I can't guarantee that!