Iowa City, Iowa (CBS ST. LOUIS) — Young children who create large messes during their high-chair meals may actually be learning identification skills faster than their cleanly counterparts.

A new study from the University of Iowa published in the Developmental Science journal suggests that toddlers who are making large messes during their highchair “meals” are actually developing vocabulary and identification talents.

The group of 72 16-month-old toddlers that were studied learned to distinguish nonsolid objects such as applesauce, milk and oatmeal. The group of children who got their hands dirty with the food were more inclined to learn word association for the mix of mushy, liquid and mores solid substances.

According to Iowa Now, the toddlers were presented items and given made-up words such as “dax” or “kiv.” The children were then asked to compare and explore the different shapes and sizes of the objects before them.

The toddlers who interacted most with the food were more likely to correctly identify the texture and names of the various objects. The difference between a jar of glue and a glass of milk were more likely identified by the kids who used their hands and mouth to truly explore the contents.

“It’s the material that makes many nonsolids,” associate professor in psychology Larissa Samuelson notes, “and how children name them.”

The research reinforces the concept that children’s behavior and environment for exploration can have an impact on later cognitive development and skills.

“It may look like your child is playing in the high chair, throwing things on the ground, and they may be doing that, but they are getting information out of (those actions),” writes Samuelson.

“And, it turns out, they can use that information later. That’s what the high chair did. Playing with these foods there actually helped these children in the lab, and they learned the names better.”


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