Museum of Science, Boston

Learning Through Play

It is widely believed that children learn by playing, but if you observe children’s play activities, you may notice that the process of ‘playing’ is inherently unsystematic. This contradiction has made the question of how children learn during play of particular interest to parents, teachers and researchers. To find out what play is all about, cognitive scientists have developed and are testing theories about how children might learn through play.

Playing with Food

Can video games change children’s ideas about nutrition?

Previous research has shown that television advertising can influence children’s food choices and their understanding of healthy eating habits. In our research, we want to find out whether online games that feature candy, cakes, and other foods can have the same effect.

In our studies, we show children (ages 6-10) pictures of various food products and ask for their opinions about them. We record how likeable children find each type of food. Children also play a short video game that incorporates names or pictures of different foods. At the end of the game, we ask children some questions about the game, to find out whether they liked playing it and what they thought about the products that were featured in the game.

We want to find out which foods children like, and whether video games that feature food products can make some foods more appealing to children. Children’s opinions about the foods and the video game will help us design a larger study to examine whether games like this one can have an effect on children’s food choices.

This study will help us understand how children learn about healthy eating, so that we can encourage them to form lifelong, healthy eating habits. Results from our research will also shape future obesity reduction programs to help people make healthy food choices.

Learn about other research related to Learning Through Play.

This research is conducted by the Center on Media & Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston

Try it at the Museum

What is nutritious to you?

Different types of animals need different kinds of foods to survive. Take a look at the live animals in the Discovery Center’s animal enclosures. What does each animal eat? Is it the same thing that you would eat? Why might each animal need different foods and different nutrients?

Try it at Home

Food in the Media

How many times in a day do you see pictures or names of food products? Count how many pictures of food you and your child see throughout the day. For each food, ask your child if they like it or not. What kinds of foods appear most often? Which foods are most appealing to your child? What kinds of foods almost never appear in the media? Next time you are grocery shopping, think about which foods on your list also appeared on TV or online.