Communication, greater awareness, and even compassion are some of the small lessons that children can learn at the grocery store. The grocery store is the perfect opportunity to spend some great time bonding with children while teaching them great life lessons. I’ve also written a post talking about how I have managed shopping with multiples and my children as a whole as they have gotten older and are no longer sitting in the grocery cart. (link here)
Not every trip to the store will be pleasant and there are times when I had to cut my shopping trip short. However, I have established a routine and way of giving my boys autonomy so they actually behave better and can be great helpers. And these days I thoroughly enjoy grocery shopping with my boys. In full disclosure, time is never your friend when shopping with kids, so just throw the expectation or hope of doing anything with ideal efficiency quicker out the window.
15 lessons to be learned at a grocery store:
1) Math & Numbers:
My son loves to count items while placing them into a bag or shopping cart.
At the age of four, we started weighing produce and typing in the PLU numbers and print the coded price tag which he puts on the bags.
We do simple addition and talk about prices and what we think is expensive vs cheap. For instance, we love passion fruit but it can be expensive ranging from $1 to $4 for just one piece of fruit. I let my son get a produce bag, check the price for passion fruit, giving his opinion if the price is reasonable or too expensive. Then I let him pick a few, followed by some addition where I will say, “Ok we have three pieces in the bag and we need six so each of you three boys can have two pieces of passion fruit this week, how many more do we need?”
There are numbers all over a grocery store from finding an aisle number to weighing and counting and more. My son has even memorized what staples of food we always get on certain aisles and will grab those items on his own as we shop. I think it is very important for my children to realize that math is very important in everyday life and they are more likely to approach learning math at school as a useful tool than as an esoteric concept..
2) Estimating with Math:
Have your child estimate how much they think a bunch of broccoli will weigh and how much it will cost depending on the weight.
3) Critical Thinking/Quantity vs Quality:
Discuss why to wait to purchase certain items such as waiting for it to be in season so cheaper, be on sale, or use a coupon. As we look at food, we often talk about looking at the vegetables and fruit for bruising and color, smelling for freshness and organic vs conventional. (http://clients.imarkinteractive.com/wise/pesticides-in-produce/) I have the top 10 dirtiest list of foods that should be bought organic that I’ve memorized, but also have printed out. My son checks this list and “let’s me know” when we should pay a little more for say the organic blueberries instead of the conventional blueberries. Then we turn the package of blueberries around to look for molding or plumpness. We compare organic spinach that we put into a bag vs a pre-washed boxed bag of organic spinach for smart packaging options and price differences. Usually the pre-washed bagged options are more expensive and have more plastic waste.
4) Directions and Prepositions:
This is a great one. Especially with my son pushing his own cart, I’m constantly telling him, look out for that lady to your right or now we are turning left and going to the cereal aisle which is what aisle(he walks ahead and looks for the number). Great pre-K/Kinder practice of prepositions through directions such as please follow behind me, in cart, under cart, the cereal box next to, and one aisle over. Additionally when we check out, my son loves to push his cart in front of mine and unload the contents of his cart onto the conveyor belt and again preposition practice of placing cold items next to, meats after, fruit between and such for bagging.
5) Driver’s Ed:
Pushing a second cart and or facilitating the pushing of an individual cart from one of your children: Good for the kids to practice navigating in public space while operating a vehicle. Especially for boys, I think this helps them become more aware of space, of others, and really being aware of their surroundings. Or most importantly, how their actions may affect other people. When my son drove his cart over one man’s foot, who I’m pretty sure was single and possibly hated children, the words that came out of his mouth were a good life lesson in public consequences from a complete stranger. My son was stunned and stood like a statue for a good minute while he just watched the man. I apologized for my son explaining that we were in a driver’s ed training course, and I had my son apologize. The man sort of smiled at that, probably remembering his own teenage days as a boy getting to drive for the first time. I then followed up with my son talking about awareness and control of the cart.
6) Making Healthy Choices:
Going back to when I talked about letting your child gather items; maybe you are thinking, right, if I do that, my child will grab all “junk food.” Here is what I do: I talk all the time to my sons about making healthy choices. We call food either healthy food or empty/unhealthy food. The grocery store is a great place to let them choose healthier food items which can help entice them to eat since they picked it out. I am constantly talking to my boys about the benefits of eating healthy vs consequences of eating empty. I also only let my son make healthy grocery list, and place only these items into his cart. See #9 Teaching Restraints.
7) Spelling & Reading:
For children in Pre-K to older elementary kids: opportunity to practice the alphabet, spelling, sounding out words, and trying to read. When I tell my child we need Kale and he is looking among the greens, he looks for something that starts with K and spells out the word K-a-l-e while looking at the word via his list (I give him his own list to look at).
Ask store employees for help in finding a needed item.
9) Teach Restraint:
Can I have this, that, oh ice cream…..Establishing a reward system before shopping helps teach restraint. When they ask if they can have certain items, I just answer, remember our deal, if you behave and help while shopping, at the end you will have earned XYZ. My XYZ ranges from picking something out from a treasure chest that we have at home, to having a scoop of yogurt ice cream at the store once we finished shopping. One time my son was insistent on getting some yogurt covered nuts. I reminded him of his reward discussed which would be gelato, and asked him if he wanted to change his reward to yogurt covered nuts but that he would not get gelato. He decided to wait for the gelato to eat with his brothers.
10) Responsibility & Empathy:
Cleaning the cart before putting kids inside (health preventative). Putting a cart away not just next to your car. Maybe even grabbing another cart that someone else left beside their cart and putting it away. You can talk about concern for not letting cars get dents, shopping cart rammed into a car would leave. When my child asked why someone would leave their shopping cart we talk about scenarios maybe they ….We once came across an older lady that couldn’t reach a certain item. I lifted my child up and she pointed to what she needed. She was so thankful, and my son was beaming with joy that he had been so helpful to another lady in need and that mom lifted him high up in the air was pretty cool too!
Talking about the scanning of items and bar code reading going on at the checkout machine.
12) Negotiation and Choices:
Before going to the store, while in the car, while getting out of the car, I talk to my boys about choices and expectations. I tell them what we will be doing play by play and expectations of behavior I expect from them. I also negotiate rewards for good behavior at the store.
Ask your child what animal the different types of meat come from. What vegetable or fruit family the produce belongs. When looking at items that have honey added discuss how bees make honey. Oh my goodness the cheese aisle alone can be heaven sent for discussion with how cheese is made why and how there are so many assortments, ages, smells, colors and how that is different from farmers cheese or cottage cheese and yogurt.
Learning to not run into people or cut them off with the grocery cart. Help kids learn how to respectfully respond to adults when they are addressed and even start to teach them how to ask complementary questions in return. For instance: when someone makes a statement to me, ”looks like you have your hands full”, I’ve taught my son to respond, “yes but I’m helping her.” Or when someone says, “oh what a good helper” my son can respond “yes I help my mom, can I help you with something?” As I mentioned in #10 above, that is when we had the lady respond that she couldn’t reach what she needed….
15) Teaching Kindness:
Taking the time to talk to store employees or other shoppers……
15 Really Wonderful Lessons to be Learned Grocery Shopping…Can you add some more to my list? Do you take your kids shopping with you? What do you enjoy or loathe about having kids with you when grocery shopping?