Practicing any skill during meals is a fantastic idea! First, we eat many times a day which then translates to many practices a day. Second, meals and food are motivating. Third, your child is sitting in a chair with full attention on you!
To review, imitation is one of the most common ways children learn language and many other skills. Therefore, practicing imitation at a young age is crucial.
Imitation targets the following milestones:
How to "play" will vary from day to day and child to child. The only consistency is place and time: high chair and meal times! Also, make it fun and give lots of praise every time your child imitates. If the activity is fun, he or she is more likely to participate!
Below are some common activities that most children will say, do, and enjoy at this age.
1 "mmmmm":this is a good place to start A natural response to delicious food is "mmmmm." M is also one of the first sounds your child will say. For both of these reasons, this is a great place to start. If your child says "mmmm," repeat the sound after them. Make it fun and silly so he or she will want to continue. If your child does not say "mmmm," model it after every bite. Bring attention to your mouth as your say "mmmmm." After just a few meals or maybe a few months, your little one will be repeating it after you.
2 "Chewing": This imitation activity must happen after your child is eating solid foods or even some purees. As your child discovers how to chew food, imitate their actions. Exaggerate your chewing and pair it with a sound such as "umumum." Remember to make it fun! If your child imitates you, you imitate him or her back. You can do this with or without food.
3 "Bababababa:" I threw this one in here since your child's attention is already on you. However, this can be "played" anywhere. If your child babbles any sound, repeat what your child is saying. The end goal is to have your child repeat the sound back to you. Once you establish this game, you can add a sound to your repetition in hopes your child will repeat the new sound combination.
4. Picking up food: This is a motor habit imitation game. As your child learns how to pick up food and eat, imitate this wonderful skill! Show how your pick up food and eat when you have your child's attention. Make it fun and exciting. Take turns and imitate each other!
5. Feeding & Drinking: This one was my son's favorite game! He loved to feed me after I feed him. I gave him a spoon and I had a spoon. After I fed him, he pretended to feed me. This works for drinking as well. After he took a sip from his sippy cup, I took a sip from my cup. Once this routine was normal, I added an "ahhh" at the end. After about one month, he was saying "ahh." Of course, this was him. Try not to compare progress. I know this is easier said than done.
The information below is very important; therefore, you will see it repeated under each imitation activity. Repetition is key, even for adults!