I read a post written by Deborah Stewart over at teach preschool on food use in the classroom recently. Using food for play has been a controversial topic for quite some time, but I felt compelled to share her views because I agree with them, and she said it so darn well. She also references Lisa Murphy, otherwise known as the Ooey Gooey Lady, in the article, that wrote a great piece with some additional points on the topic as well.
The part that stuck with me the most in her article is the fact that our senses are so important in how we learn and retain something. I too remember making patterns with fruit loops as a preschooler! The rough feel of the cereal, the fruity smell as I strung them along soft string to hang around my neck, and the crunch I heard between my teeth when I ate them. I still remember an experiment from 3rd grade that involved food. In fact, it was vegetables, fruits, and cereals, which helped me remember what carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals are. I instantly get sucked back in time to my mothers kitchen whenever I make homemade chocolate chip cookies. I remember how the flour felt, the importance in the way you measure it, the sound of the wooden spoon scraping the bowl to make sure the ingredients were stirred together correctly, the sweet smell of the dough when the sugary egg part met with the floured ingredients, and the warm gooey taste of the cookie when it came out of the oven after being cooked to an exact time.
One "aha" moment I had in a training I attended a couple years back, and then used to share with others in my own training's, was how closely our sense of smell and the part of our brains responsible for memory work together. My personal examples above show how memories are tagged with senses. The reason we are able to remember certain things over others has a lot to do with how many of our senses were involved at the time. The more of your senses involved, the more places in your brain that memory is stored, which makes it that much easier to pull it out later when you need it because you've stored it in four or maybe five places.
How many senses are involved in the things you do with your child(ren)? Make a goal of involving at least three of the five senses. Talk about and describe them as you play; "See how bright the blue is in our play dough? How does it feel in your hands? Soft, warm, squishy? The dough smells salty, how does it smell to you?"